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HB 400: A strange Teacher Appreciation Week gift

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 2, 2011

CONTACT: Rob D'Amico
Cell: 512-627-1343

Memo from the State House to Teachers:

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, we’re going to cut your pay, furlough you, cram more kids into your class, and water down your employment rights

HB 400 … A legislative plan for permanently hurting our classrooms and the teaching profession

While parents and schoolchildren around the state prepare to thank their teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week (May 2-6), the Texas House is preparing to consider a bill—HB 400—that would permanently change the law to allow for pay cuts to teachers, elimination of the 22:1 class-size law for grades K-4, and erosion of basic employment rights.

“We wish we could chuckle at the irony of the situation, but instead we have to shake our heads at the harmful impact of this legislation,” said Linda Bridges, Texas AFT president. “We realize all Texans are sacrificing in these tough times, but some lawmakers are ready to do permanent damage to our schoolchildren and the teaching profession to try to solve a temporary fiscal crisis on the backs of teachers and students.”

Supporters of HB 400 claim that the bill will offer “flexibility” for districts to save money and avoid layoffs. But these same lawmakers have refused to change the bill to make sure salary reductions are limited to a temporary response to a temporary revenue slump or to ensure that the “savings” are used to prevent layoffs. Additionally, the bill’s promoters are the same lawmakers who have resisted fixing a key cause of the budget shortfall—the structural deficit created by the 2006 tax swap—and using more of the Rainy Day Fund to minimize the damage done by cuts.

“This is a conscious choice that supporters of HB 400 are making—avoiding true leadership in fixing our budget and instead ripping away school quality standards that have stood the test of time for decades,” Bridges said. “If you really appreciate teachers, you’ll stand up and tell them that you’re going to fix our school finance system and make sure that any damage done by cost-saving measures will be  temporary and will truly protect more teacher jobs.”

Bridges called claims that it is necessary to change class-size requirements particularly inexcusable. “I won’t mince words here. Claiming that this bill is necessary to increase class sizes and save money is an outright lie. Districts already can get waivers from the current cap, and no one is resisting ideas to make that process—which is already easy—smoother for districts while they face crippling cuts in state funding.  But proponents of this bill want to gut class-size caps in grades K-4 permanently, putting more kids in the classroom and making it harder for these children to get the individual attention they deserve.
 
Bridges added that Texas AFT has collected some 12,000 petition signatures from teachers and parents to keep the 22:1 class-size law, accompanied by some 4,000 comments on why changes to the law will hurt student learning and drive teachers away from the profession.

“We encourage the supporters of HB 400 to go out the schools during Teacher Appreciation Week, talk with teachers, and try their best to sell this bill of goods to them. They should be forewarned, though, that teachers have done their homework on HB 400, and they should not expect any appreciation from teachers for this legislative assault on Texas classrooms."

Texas AFT will post a Teacher Appreciation Week flier for parents at www.texascandobetter.org. The flier thanks teachers, lets them know parents are standing behind them, and outlines action steps parents can take to urge their legislators to stop HB 400 and fully fund public education.

Background on HB 400:

HB 400 permanently eliminates the 22-to-1 cap on the size of K-4 classrooms, by changing the standard to a district-wide average, which can easily be gamed to increase class sizes. Both this average and a new 25-to-1 cap for individual classrooms also would be subject to waiver. The bill also wipes out special requirements of smaller class sizes for students at risk of failing standardized state tests.

HB 400 permanently eliminates the state minimum salary schedule for teachers, counselors, nurses, and librarians, replacing salary floors with a mandate to districts to institute test-driven “performance pay.”

HB 400 kills teachers’ contract safeguards. It takes away the right to an independent hearing before an impartial hearing examiner for a teacher faced with a mid-contract termination. It deprives term-contract teachers of timely notice of proposed non-renewal, shifting the notice date to the last day of instruction, so teachers must wait five extra, anxious weeks before they know if they are employed for the coming year. Teachers on continuing contracts meanwhile lose one of the main benefits of those contracts: seniority protection in case of layoffs. This is an engraved invitation to target veteran teachers with the highest salaries for layoffs.

Texas AFT represents more than 65,000 teachers, paraprofessionals, support personnel, and higher-education employees across the state. Texas AFT is affiliated with the 1.5-million-member American Federation of Teachers.

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