Classroom sizes growing as schools recover from 2011 budget cuts

Austin

In 2011, the Texas legislature slashed the state’s education budget by $5.3 billion, causing teacher layoffs that schools still haven’t fully recovered.

According to the progressive think tank Center for Public Policy Priorities, Texas schools lost 10,700 teachers between 2010 and 2012 because of the massive cuts. Student enrollment in the meantime went up by 44,500.

A math teacher isn’t needed to tell you that the student-teacher ratio has changed.

“Last year, there were so many kids they had to bring in extra chairs, they had them sit on bean bags until they could reshuffle them all.,” said Robert Kibbie, a parent whose children go to school in the Austin Independent School District. Class size makes a huge difference he says. 

“If my child needs special attention, on let’s just say math homework, if she’s over here doing something for someone else, it’s going to be harder to get the specialized needs,” said Kibbie.

There are more than 350,000 teachers in the state and while the number of teachers in Texas has increased by 9 percent, school districts would have to hire 11,000 more teachers to get the same class teacher-student class ratios from before the cuts.

Since then, Texas schools have put more students in each class. For kindergarten through fourth grade, classrooms are required by state law to have a 22:1 student to teacher ratio. However, districts can apply for waivers from that ratio. 

Right now in AISD, there are 22 classrooms that are over the limit and operating under a waiver. Before funding cuts back in 2011, the district had only two classrooms over the limit.

“Pretty much all of our schools across the state are dealing with a funding crisis,” said Chandra Villanueva from the Center for Public Policy Priorities. She says Austin schools can’t keep up with its booming population without the state’s financial help.

AISD, like other school districts, can’t just tax its way to more teachers. Under the “Robin Hood” system, if AISD raised taxes to pay for more teachers the district would have to give more than half of that new money to other property-poor school districts.

“We have put some money back in, but our student population keeps growing, inflation keeps growing, and our districts are kind of struggling to make ends meet,” said Villanueva.

The legislature appointed a school finance commission to come up with a complete overhaul of school finance. Those changes are set to come out in the fall. 

According to the CPPP’s report, most Texas districts are not adding as many teachers, but they are adding special education staff, speech therapists, registrars and human resource employees.

The 2011 budget cuts can also be felt in other educational areas. A study last fall from the same group found funding for bilingual classes dropped 40 percent since 2011. The study found funding for programs aimed at keeping elementary students from falling behind also fell 21 percent.

Classroom Size Waivers 

TEA records show the Leander Independent School District and Pflugerville Independent School District had six waivers in 2010. This year, Leander ISD has 36 and Pflugerville ISD has 20.

The highest number of waivers KXAN found was in the San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District with eight. The district had zero in 2010.

Most of the other large school districts in the area did not have any.

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