In his June 8, 2012, keynote speech at the Texas Democratic Party convention, San Antonio’s mayor told the crowd that cuts to education spending harm future economic growth.
"Every Texan knows that, except (Governor) Rick Perry," Julián Castro told the crowd. "His Republican administration cut $4 billion out of our public schools. That's 12,000 Texas teachers without a job."
Castro’s reference to a $4 billion cut is very familiar. As we noted in an April 2012 fact check, the 2011 Legislature changed school finance formulas so schools would get $4 billion less than if the formulas had stayed the same. Perry signed the formula changes into law.
But Castro’s claim about 12,000 teachers going jobless as a result was new to us. Is he right?
We’ll also look at whether it’s reasonable to hang the funding decision on Perry.
Castro’s political consultant, Christian Archer, offered as backup a December 22, 2011, National Public Radio news story that begins, "School funding in Texas is in turmoil. State lawmakers slashed more than $4 billion from education this school year — one of the largest cuts in state history — and more than 12,000 teachers and support staff have been laid off."
NPR education reporter Claudio Sanchez told us by email that he got the number from lobby groups representing teachers and school boards. A spokesman for one of the groups, Clay Robison at the Texas State Teachers Association, told us by email that his group drew the figure from Moak, Casey and Associates, a research and lobbying firm whose clients include school districts.
Lynn Moak, a partner in the firm, told us by phone that the number was a preliminary projection based on results from the firm’s September/October 2011 survey of 60 districts.
So, the 12,000 figure was not a count of how many teachers had left school employment as a result of the $4 billion reduction in formula aid. Rather, it was a projection of how many more teachers schools would have employed in 2011-12 if lawmakers had increased school aid in proportion to enrollment growth -- as past legislatures had done for decades.
We sought other sources for the number of teachers left jobless.
Texas Education Agency spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson told us by email that according to the agency’s online database, the number of full-time Texas public school teaching jobs decreased by 10,717 from the 2010-11 school year to 2011-12. School districts had 334,930 full-time teaching positions in 2010-11 and 324,213 in 2011-12.
Does that mean 10,717 teachers were left without a job?
Cindy Clegg, an administrator at the Texas Association of School Boards, told us by phone: "We have that many fewer teachers, but a large number of those have left the profession." A significant number of teachers retired, she said, allowing some districts to reduce budgets through attrition -- not hiring replacements. There were layoffs, but Clegg and Culbertson said TASB and TEA don’t record those numbers.
Clegg emailed us a May 2012 article from the association’s HR Exchange publication, which it produces for members, indicating that retirements by Texas public school and university employees have risen steadily since 2009 and climbed steeply in 2011, according to Teacher Retirement System of Texas figures.
Among the reasons cited in the article:
- Anticipating cuts, many school districts offered staff incentives to retire.
- Some teachers "voluntarily left to preserve jobs for their peers."
- Teachers’ job satisfaction is slumping, with bigger classes and emphasis on standardized tests among the factors.
According to the article, TRS reported that for all public school/university employees, retirements from September 2010 through August 2011 were up 25 percent from the same period the year before. In the first part of the 2011-12 school year, September to January, retirements were up 28 percent over the same period a year before.
We sought to learn how many of the reported 21,854 retirements in 2011 were public-school teachers. TRS director of government relations Ray Spivey told us by email that the retirement system doesn’t break down its numbers by job title.
Next, we looked into whether Perry is responsible for the reduced number of teacher positions, as Castro also said.
The 2011 NPR story Archer sent us quotes state Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, as saying lawmakers could have softened the blow by tapping into the rainy day fund, but Perry told them not to: "The governor drew a very, very sharp line in the sand (saying) that the rainy day fund, which was specifically designed for periods of economic slowdown, would not be touched."
Moak said he believed Perry’s stance was instrumental in forcing the legislature to cut into public education.
"Day-to-day control" of changes to the state budget, he said, fell under Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, House Speaker Joe Straus and the chairmen of the Senate Finance and House Appropriations committees. "And they certainly don’t operate as part of the Perry administration, if you will, to use (Castro’s) words," he said.
"What Perry was instrumental in doing, I believe, he played a greater role in limiting access by the Legislature to the rainy day fund," Moak said. "And once that became clear, that the House with very much Perry’s support was not going to consider above an emergency level of funds from the rainy day fund, the Lege had a limited series of choices as to where it’d make funding cuts."
An Austin American-Statesman news article published June 19, 2011, in the wake of the state budget passing into law, opens: "GOP legislators didn't budge this session from their commitment to reduce Texas' education spending even in the face of protests, negative ad campaigns and reams of criticism." Perry reinforced the pressure to make deep budget cuts, the story said.
For his part, the governor was quoted in a March 9, 2011, Statesman news story as saying that local administrators and school boards, not state government, would be laying off the teachers. "The lieutenant governor, the speaker, their colleagues aren't going to hire or fire one teacher, as best I can tell," Perry said.
"Over the course of the last decade, we have seen a rather extraordinary amount of non-classroom employees added to school rolls," Perry said, a statement we later rated Mostly True. "So are the administrators and the school boards going to make a decision to reduce those, or are they going to make a decision to reduce the number of teachers in the classroom? I certainly know where I would point."
Culbertson gave a similar answer when we asked if TEA could provide context on how staffing has changed because of state budget decisions: "Hiring and personnel decisions are a local issue," she said.
Castro’s reference to 12,000 unemployed teachers is based on an out-of-date, what-if projection -- not actual job losses. Still, school districts shed nearly 11,000 teaching positions in the first school year affected by the $4 billion cut signed into law by Perry. And while it’s uncertain how many of the eliminated positions resulted in unemployed teachers -- retirements also came into play -- it seems reasonable to speculate that many teachers were left jobless. Without more precise information, this statement rates Half True.