Big education rally scheduled at State Capitol

The umbrella that education advocates brought with them Friday morning to the Texas Capitol had nothing to do with the storm clouds which hung over the Capitol Dome. The umbrella was there to promote a weekend rally and to send a symbolic message.

"Come on Saturday, it's supposed to be a sunny day, on Saturday, but we need to tap the rainy day fund," said Louis Malfaro with the Texas AFT.

Its believed if lawmakers dip into the state's contingency fund - future school budget cuts could be prevented.

"It's raining and its time to do right by our children," said Malfaro

The group is concerned a new state budget will allow vouchers for public schools and nothing will be done to reduce testing mandates. ( A link to HB1 & SB1 located at the bottom of this article)

"And we stand today with a man-made funding crisis for public education and that's why we are rallying here tomorrow," said Allen Weeks with the Save Our Schools coalition.

Past state funding shortfalls were also used to explain the potential fate of Dawson elementary. It's one of nearly a dozen that Austin ISD identified for possible closure or to be repurposed. ( A link to the updated AISD proposal is at the bottom of this article.)

District officials tell FOX7 the main reason why Dawson and other schools were targeted is because of low enrollment numbers and maintenance issues.  It's a big disappointment for parents and a case of bad timing. The district has just pumped in $2.6 million in bond money to make renovations at Dawson Elementary. It was suggested that kind of expenditure, for basic maintenance, could have been avoided.

"I won't go as far saying education has been commoditized, and yet here we are reduced to numbers and gauging success not on a child but whether or not we can afford to keep a building open," said Tali Wildman.

Wildman, is a member of the AISD Facilities and Bond Planning Advisory Committee. She pointed out local taxpayers have provided enough money to keep doors open and avoid another bond issue.

"If we had all of the money that we paid off in our property tax recapture, we'd have the money to do all of the deferred maintenance on our schools."

Recapture, also known as Robin Hood, has taken a lot of cash out of Austin. According to AISD the amount totaled just over $400 million during the FY16/17 school year.

"The change in the formula is not being proposed this session. Without that change in formula we are going to continue to see this same scene play out session after session," said State Rep. Donna Howard.

The Austin Democrat has filed legislation to increase education funding, but admits it is only a Band-Aid.  Rep. Howard supports requiring the state pay the 50% of what each district has to spend to educate students. But that only remains an idea and not option lawmakers will consider.

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