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Doggett encourages parents to keep fighting for Austin schools

Thursday, March 24, 2011 by Kimberly Reeves

Congressman Lloyd Doggett urged Austin parents last night to stay involved in the state and federal budget process but admitted an admonition to “call your local lawmaker” probably felt insufficient to parents worried about school closings and teachers being fired from local schools.

The Coalition to Save Austin Schools invited Doggett to discuss budget cuts and the $830 million in promised Edujobs money still in limbo in Washington D.C. During the meeting at Space 12 in East Austin, Doggett said he was sure it was the vocal participation of active parents and community members that had convinced Austin ISD to take school closures off the table.


“We’ve had an educational moment for every parent who didn’t get involved until this last year. Now we have to turn it into a movement,” Doggett said. “Can you take that moment and turn it into something ongoing?”


The 50 or so attendees gave every indication of wanting to continue to be involved. Steve Coyle, a longtime school district volunteer, said a sort of brotherhood had developed around the fight to keep Austin schools open. People who might have started out just talking about their own school now were talking about education as a whole, he said, and about broader policy issues, such as whether the alternative learning center should be closed and how the state could draw down its Edujobs funding.


The so-called Edujobs bill, passed a year ago, would have put an extra $18 million in the coffers of Austin ISD. Gov. Rick Perry’s refusal to certify proportional cuts to education in the upcoming budget, which he said he is constitutionally prohibited from doing, means Texas remains one of two states without the funding.


Doggett defended the choice to put strings on the money, or at least require that the dollars be used to supplement, rather than supplant, budget shortfalls.


“This amendment, which was supported by 12 Democrats in the House, was simply designed to assure our schools are not penalized,” Doggett said. “The state of Texas, on the funding of education, has the right to make bad decisions, as it’s apparently making (them) this year. It can make cuts; just don’t make disproportionate cuts to education.”


Republican proposals to cut spending on education in Washington D.C. mirror the “wrong-headed” approach being followed by Republicans in Austin, Doggett said. If current budget proposals go through, local school districts could see serious cuts to funding for low-income and special education children, as well as cuts to national programs intended to expand math and science education.


Doggett said he would have been happy to pull his amendment on the Edujobs bill himself if Gov. Rick Perry’s office had given him some assurances that the funds would flow directly to schools and not into the state’s general revenue coffers to fill a budget hole created by the leadership’s own budget mistakes. That never happened, Doggett said.


Most parents simply wanted to know what they could do to get their voices heard. Doggett urged them to keep parents around the state informed and urge them also to stay involved. In that way, constituents could keep the pressure on a broader number of state lawmakers.

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