As Texas lawmakers get ready to meet for the legislative session on January 11th, they are confronting the worst fiscal crisis the state has ever faced. The next 140 days could be crucial for public education. Here’s what you can do to help make a difference.
Texas lawmakers heading into the 2011-2012 legislative session are in for a tough time. Hobbled by a budget deficit of $10 to $18 billion, cuts in public spending are a reality across the board as the state finds itself unable to pay for all of the services it offered during the past two years. What’s more, legislators are required by law to balance the budget, and lawmakers who want to trim public spending will use the deficit as justification to do so. Because funding for public education falls under General Revenue— meaning it’s not earmarked for special use—it’s likely to suffer cuts along with other big-ticket items. This combination of factors, along with the relatively short duration of the legislative session, makes it a vulnerable time for public education in Texas. You can help minimize the damage by getting educated and involved.
What you can do now
A good way to start is by following RYHT on Facebook and Twitter for the latest developments from the Capitol, as important decisions about the distribution of funds are made quite quickly, with very little lead-up. A bill can change dramatically from the time it is drafted, requiring multiple votes and going through several stages in the process, so will make it a priority to keep members abreast of important developments as they happen and alert them when immediate action is required.
You can also talk to friends, coworkers and family members about signing up on the RYHT website to receive emails and stay informed during the critical session months, and contact legislators now to let them know that you support public education and hope they will as well during the 2011 session.
We also encourage members to educate themselves on the issues, players and schedules of the upcoming session. Visit the websites for the Texas House of Representatives Public Education Committee and the Senate Education Committee to learn about committee members, check committee schedules and stay abreast of hearings. A quick link on the House page lists the bills that have been referred for the upcoming session, including information on who authored them, last action taken and a brief description. The Senate page includes members, archives, schedules and minutes. Finally, for a simple educational overview on how the legislative process in Texas works (great for explaining the process to kids), visitHow a Bill Becomes a Law.
What to expect down the line
As votes come up on the floor, we’ll be sending out email blasts with up-to-the-minute details on the bills and asking members to let their legislators know how they feel about all aspects of a piece of legislation. For instance, we may ask that RYHT members send up to five emails on a single piece of legislation as it passes from one group of legislators to the next. Also, as a bill passes through the process, its content can change significantly, and hearings and votes move fast. Don’t be surprised if the volume of email you receive from Raise Your Hand Texas picks up in April or May— that’s when the legislators really get to work!