Teachers share education concerns with lawmakers


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist ROBERT MCMURREY

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE


Posted on February 11, 2013 at 7:12 PM

Updated Monday, Feb 11 at 7:21 PM

AUSTIN -- The busy halls of the Texas State Capitol Monday echoed with the voices of teachers. 
Some 400 educators gathered from across the state to share their concerns with lawmakers as part of the Association of Texas Professional Educators' (ATPE) lobby day under the dome. 
"The budget cuts have affected us with fewer dollars available for extra programs like tutoring, remediation. The high-stakes testing has dramatically impacted our time on task in the classroom," said Colleen Frerichs, a high school teacher who has spent 13 years teaching in Round Rock ISD.
"They froze all our salaries for three years and so then the money that you're putting out making sure that the kids have pencils and spirals and folders that they don't have, that gets cut," said San Antonio elementary school teacher Teresa Akers. "So making sure that the kids have what they need to be able to get a good education."
"I'm extremely concerned that we're spending $94 million on Pearson, when in my classroom I'm dealing with rationing paper, rationing ink," said middle school teacher Shaleah Rose, who made the trip from El Paso. "My kids are using computers that are older than they are. They're about 14, 15 years old. There's something wrong with that."
"We're looking to have the monies reinstated that were taken away last legislative session, and then also testing," said Frerichs. "We would like to see the amount of testing reduced as well as a release of the tests so that the teachers have an idea of what is being expected of our students."
Dozens of groups met with individual representatives such as State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio), who filed a bill this session (SB 240) which would reduce the amount of exams required to graduate from 15 to three. After meeting with a group of teachers from the Central Texas area, Van de Putte said many are frustrated with having to teach for a test instead of for subject comprehension.
"If we do not change the amount of funding that goes into schools, if we do not alter the absolutely constrictive accountability, high-stakes testing, then that means that another school year goes by for our children when they're stuck in this not workable system," Van de Putte told KVUE.
"There are different ways to measure success for our high schoolers. What if you graduate with 30 hours of college credit? That's not college ready, that's college proven. What if you graduate with advanced placement, or dual credit or certification programs? In other words, there are five million students in our state; it's not a one size fits all," said Van de Putte. "If your curriculum is rigorous, and we don't mess with the curriculum, let's let other measures of success also account for how we grade our schools."
The lawsuit over school finance is likely next headed to the Texas Supreme Court. Many lawmakers are leery of changing too much when it comes to funding, warning the legislature could very likely be ordered to change it again in a special session in accordance with the high court's ruling next spring.
"The courts have already said we're not doing it correctly," said State Rep. Larry Gonzales (R-Round Rock), who explains the last thing lawmakers want to do is wind up in court again. "With that many question marks out there, we're just probably going to fund some growth and that might be it for awhile, tread some water until we get some resolution from the courts." 
Gonzales explains funding growth is "a given" when it comes to addressing funding during the regular session, and in the meantime hopes to provide some additional funding for mentoring for students who've failed high-stakes testing.
The teachers say their main goal is a gentle reminder.
"To make sure that the legislators know that there are faces behind these numbers and that there are kids behind these numbers that we need to be supportive of," said Akers.