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The Brief: Top Texas News for March 14, 2011

Thousands of demonstrators descended on the Capitol on Saturday to loudly protest $10 billion in education cuts. But now what?

Marchers with signs criticize Governor Perry's stance on school funding cuts in the Save Our Schools march to the Capitol on…

The Big Conversation:

Thousands of demonstrators descended on the Capitol on Saturday to loudly protest $10 billion in education cuts. But now what?

Parents, educators, students and a number of politicians from across the state filled several blocks in downtown Austin as part of the rally, which was organized by Save Texas Schools, a statewide education coalition. Signs urged lawmakers to spare Texas schools and tap the state's Rainy Day Fund, but many protesters took aim at Gov. Rick Perry, with chants like, "it's raining, it's pouring, but Rick Perry's snoring," the Tribune's Morgan Smith reported.

Estimates put attendance figures between 8,000 and 11,000.

But as lawmakers prepare to grapple with the $15 billion to $27 billion budget shortfall, will the protesters' message move any lawmakers? State Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, said the weekend's display could get some legislators refocused on political realities, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

"The only way to get them not thinking about the last election but the next election — the one that matters — is to have big numbers of people show up and demand that we invest in education," he said.

And as the Trib's Ross Ramsey writes today, with school districts already strapped for cash, it may be difficult for Gov. Rick Perry to pass off the blame to local districts if budget cuts result in massive layoffs. "The lieutenant governor, the speaker and their colleagues aren’t going to hire or fire one teacher, as best I can tell," Perry said last week.

Not everyone supported the protesters' cause, though. Americans for Prosperity, a conservative activist group, released a statement calling the event a "front for unions" and attacking Save Texas Schools, which it described as a "liberal group posing as a non-partisan, education advocacy organization."

“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 statement said.

Another group, the American Federation of Teachers, will march on the Capitol today in another attempt at averting cuts. A spokesman told the Houston Chronicle he expects attendance of more than 3,400.

Culled:

  • A rush to sign on to last-minute legislation accompanied Friday's major bill-filing deadline in the Legislature. Lawmakers filed 529 bills Friday, bringing the session's total number to 3,801, down from 4,697 in 2009 — a decrease that has been attributed to constraints imposed by the budget shortfall.
  • The Houston Chronicle has the latest look at the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, the embattled insurance agency that drew thousands of lawsuits after Hurricane Ike. Four House members on the agency's regulatory team reportedly pocketed thousands of dollars from windstorm programs they oversaw, the Chronicle reports.

"It's a GLBT issue — it's a gay, lesbian, bisexual, transvestite issue." — State Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, on KXAN-TV's Session '11 discussing a same-sex adoption bill filed by Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas

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