Why I Support Closing Schools

I know that\’s like saying you\’re a holocaust denier, or have been exposed to extensive experimentation by aliens life forms, but hear me out.

In 2008, the state of Texas allowed for a 1/3 property tax cut. I don\’t fully understand how this worked, but basically no one I know remembers getting anything resembling a large tax cut, and now the state has a massive budget deficit.

How massive? Between $15 and $27 billion. For those who have trouble with numbers that big (like me), GritsForBreakfast (a criminal justice blog) did the math and we could close the entire Texas prison system and not fill in that $15 billion dollar hole. It\’s worth noting that education is 49% of the budget. Quite simply there\’s no way (for a Republican) to balance the budget without cutting education.

So how does this affect Austin? Austin actually has some of the lowest school property taxes in central Texas, but the state caps those taxes at $1.50 per $10000 of property value. Currently Austin is at about $1.20 per $10000. Of that money we get to spend $55 out of every $100 we take in. The rest of the money is sent to the capital to be redistributed to poor school districts. Poor school districts in this case are mostly rural. This is important to keep in mind. Even if Austin were to raise their tax rate to the maximum we would only get to add $55 back to the budget for every $100 we had to fork over.

We are property rich, but our students are poor. Property rich districts like Plano don\’t have all the programs we need like ESL, dual-language, and free lunches. So when the state cuts their funding it doesn\’t create the massive holes it does for AISD.

The CFO of AISD spoke last night and AISD\’s projected budget shortfall depending on how the state deals with cuts is projected to be a minimum of $55 million and could go as high as $120 million. They sent away the facilities task force to come up with $10 million in cuts, which is the proposal they brought back. But people talking about how to make up the difference are conveniently missing the fact that we don\’t need to come up with $10 million to save our schools. We need $55 million. Cutting programs, teacher and administrative salaries are still probably going to be in the $45 million dollars the budget commitee has to come up with.

I know that it\’s unpopular to say you support closing schools, but if we don\’t close schools that\’s 200 teaching positions (on top of whatever cuts the budget committee feels they have to make in teaching staff). And I think the teachers are more important than the name on the building.

Pretending we can \”save austin\’s schools\” is as much fairy dust and puppies*. We can\’t bake sale our way out of this. The district needs a tourniquet, not a band-aid. I support solving the problem by raising taxes at the state level, but that\’s rainbows and kittens with the current legislature.

I have my finger crossed for the $55 million number. I\’m hoping we get out of this only closing 9 schools and with class sizes under 30. I\’m hoping we get to keep art and music. Only time will tell.

* rainbow/kittens phraseology courtesy of @mdahmus