American-Statesman, Rodolfo Gonzalez) MAGS OUT, NO SALES, TV OUT, INTERNET OUT, AP MEMBERS ONLY, Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas — Angry teachers chanting "save our schools" and holding signs criticizing Gov. Rick Perry rallied outside his office Monday, saying Republican-backed plans to slash $10 billion from education spending would cripple public schools.
More than a thousand educators, students and other protesters followed a high school marching band to the Capitol steps to oppose Perry's cuts-only approach to a state budget shortfall that could reach $27 billion. Initial budget proposals would leave 100,000 teachers jobless, or about a third of the teachers employed by Texas public schools, according to independent experts.
Holding blue umbrellas, teachers urged the governor and lawmakers to use some of the state's $9.4 billion Rainy Day Fund and to explore other options to help lessen the blow.
"It's important they see that there's great concern about money being mismanaged," said Dallas school teacher Paul Merchant. "Teachers are losing their positions because of that, and the Rainy Day Fund needs to be used to stop it."
Perry has been resistant to using the fund, though one of his top aides told lawmakers last week that he would be open to using some of the money. Perry's office didn't immediately return a call for comment Monday.
Texas' expected revenue shortfall was caused by the recession and a new business tax that has not raised as much money as projected. The funding hole also will affect other aspects of state government, including highway construction projects and state parks.
Those opposed to the education cuts are trying to keep up pressure after a similar rally Saturday attracted about 5,000 protesters. Though Monday's crowd was smaller, there was no shortage of anger toward the governor.
Protestors said Perry should be exploring revenue-generating options and working to free up $883 million in federal stimulus funds that are tied up in a political dispute but could help schools.
Houston teacher Maria Mallona said her school district is in a poor area and public education is key for her students' success in life.
"The governor needs to stop and think about the misusing of funds," she said. "He's only going to make it worse by letting us have these cuts and not using the Rainy Day fund."
Others said that instead of trying to point blame elsewhere, Perry should own up to his actions. Perry said last week that state government wasn't at fault if teachers were laid off, suggesting that blame rests with local school boards and schools.
"We need to tell the governor that we are fed up with his blaming Washington, D.C. for our crisis," said Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, who has organized a campaign for students to color apples with messages of why they oppose the cuts.
With nearly 1,000 apples, Villarreal helped a San Antonio first-grader — whose apple read "I am the future of Texas" — deliver the apples to Perry's office.
Anti-Perry signs were spread abundantly throughout the crowd, including several that gave the governor failing grades in education, children, teachers and Texas. Others implored Perry to not abandon Texas students.
Educators said the cuts would reverse years of progress in an already underfunded public school system, put future generations at risk and spur job loss in other sectors of the economy.
"We will not accept cuts that are going to decimate public education," said Shelley Potter, president of the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel.
The American Federation of Teachers, the state's teachers union that organized Monday's rally, said the proposed cuts are part of a larger effort to weaken the American middle class.
"We are seeing attacks all across the country on our middle class families, on our American values," said Randi Weingarten, the organization's president. "We must use our voices to reverse this. We must fight for our kids."
Protestors are confident legislators are hearing their outcries, but not sure what the outcome will be.
"I'm sure they're listening to what we're saying," said Merchant, the Dallas teacher. "But they might be listening with a deaf ear."
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