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Thousands Protest Education Cuts at Texas Capitol

Want to get the attention of 11,000 Texans? Propose a $10 billion spending cut to public education.

A "Come and Take It" flag depicting an apple instead of the traditional cannon at the Save Our Schools rally at the Texas Capitol on March 12, 2011.

Want to get the attention of 11,000 Texans? Propose a $10 billion spending cut to public education.

Parents, educators and students from across the state marched to the Capitol Saturday for the Save Texas Schools rally to express their concern over what could amount to a $10 billion reduction in state funding for schools.

Initial estimates put attendance around 4,000. But during the event, organizers said they had to stop counting — they had volunteers marking people with stickers — at 11,000. Capitol police were more conservative, putting the number at around 8,000. Representatives from over 300 school districts were in attendance, according to Save Texas Schools. The crowd spanned several city blocks as it marched up Congress to the Capitol and participants filled up most of the building’s south lawn when they arrived. 

During the two-hour event, speakers included Dallas ISD superintendent Michael Hinojosa, San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro and Perrin-Whitt CISD superintendent John Kuhn. Bill Hammond, the president of the Texas Association of Business, was also slated to speak but sent a text message Saturday morning saying he would be unable to because he had sprained his ankle, said Save Texas Schools spokesman Jason Sabo.

In addition to tapping the Rainy Day fund, rally-goers urged Gov. Rick Perry to sign the application for the $830 million currently tied up in a political fight in Congress from the federal Education Jobs fund. They also asked lawmakers to fix the state’s public education funding mechanism.

The rally was touted as a nonpartisan effort, but the feeling in the crowd was distinctly anti-Perry. Chants of “it's raining, it's pouring, but Rick Perry's snoring” and slogans like “Flunk Perry” were plentiful. The publicity surrounding the event provoked a press release from the conservative activist group Americans for Prosperity, which called it a “front for unions” and “raising taxes.”

“Save Texas Schools is a liberal group posing as a non-partisan, education advocacy organization,” said Texas state director Peggy Venable in a statement, adding, “We can cut education spending without cutting instruction or teachers.  But educrats are calling in all of their forces to oppose any education cuts.”

The Texas Public Policy Foundation, the Austin-based conservative think-tank that supports making cuts to public education funding, also issued a statement on the rally. “The concerns about job security of the teachers attending today’s rally are understandable,” said education policy analyst James Golson. “While no one should be completely immune from budget reductions in this tough fiscal cycle, teachers should certainly not be the first cuts — as too many school districts have proposed.”

Sue Deigaard said she was among about 40 parents, teachers and children who traveled from Houston to represent Mark Twain Elementary in Houston Independent School District. She said the rally provided a “sense of statewide community.”

Her biggest worry for the upcoming legislative session?

“That our children are going to go back in the fall and find teachers gone, programs gone, activities that are valuable to them gone." said Diegaard, who has children in first and fourth grade. “It sends the message that those things aren't important. And that's the wrong message to send.”

She said she’ll be on one of the seven buses HISD is sending to the Capitol on Monday for the Texas American Federation of Teachers Rally day.

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