The Last Ditch Effort

One billion is a big number. If you wanted to pay someone a dollar each second, it would take almost 32 years before they would see a billion. If you traveled one billion inches from the point at which you are standing, you’d be half way across the globe. And if you traveled back a billion minutes in time, you’d land smack dab in the middle of the Roman Empire. So imagine how big $5 billion must look like and how losing that much money doesn’t come easy.

Thanks to the state legislature and business-oriented governor, Texas is about to discover what it means to lose $5 billion dollars to its public education system. It’s hard enough to comprehend the gargantuan size of that number in the first place, much less to determine how each of those dollars directly affects classroom learning, but we are about to find out.

If you have no experience with public education it’s easy to scoff at the outraged rally cries of teachers over losing these funds in the presence of a looming budget deficit. I used to be one of them. Who are these people who work seven months of the year and earn nearly twice what I make a reporter?  Who are they to complain of poor working conditions and lack of resources? How hard could it be to teach a bunch of kids? KIDS!? But now that I find myself waist deep in the mud with the very people I once belittled, I’m singing a different tune. Being a Texas teacher in this decade is hard.

We compete with facebook and text messaging for our student’s attention and are forced to keep wandering minds engaged in rigidly defined material, to which they can’t relate but must master, in order to advance to the next grade. I don’t deny that the system is broken, but I do challenge the idea that cutting a substantial portion of funding is the way to fix it. There is certainly an element of practically involved in addressing debt and the budget, but why at such a huge cost to education?

On March 12, the family and I went to the Capitol to ask these same questions of the legislatures who seem intent on cutting the budget by any means possible–even at the expense of our future generations. We weren’t the only ones there.

I don’t fool myself into believing that redundancies, inefficiencies and unnecessary expenditures are non-existent in school districts across the state, or that we couldn’t all come together and agree to pinch a few pennies here and there to benefit the greater good. But I do contest the idea that there is $5 billion worth of excess in public education. And I know that students will be the ones to ultimately suffer.

Yesterday Heath’s district elected to cut costs by eliminating 11 percent of their employees from the payroll. More than 200 people lost their jobs and Heath was one of them. But his first emotion wasn’t anger, it was sadness over the service he could no longer provide to his low-income, special needs students.

You don’t have to agree with the sentiments expressed here, or with the idea that education is a right of the people. But you should take a moment to appreciate the teacher that taught you to read this.