I am one of nine children. My dad and his parents owned a dry-cleaning business during my early years. They closed it when I was a pre-teen, and my dad began working as an electrician for the electric company in Peoria. My mom worked as a housewife and mother.

Raising nine children wasn’t easy. We “handed down” more than clothing. Bicycles, baseball gloves, roller skates that fit over tennis shoes . . . pretty much everything we had, we passed down the line because my family’s budget didn’t allow for many extras.

I learned at an early age about prioritizing. My parents constantly developed ways to stretch my dad’s paycheck and separated the “needs” from the “wants.” They did an amazing job. As a teen, I remember reading an article about poverty. My family’s income, combined with its size, put us at the poverty level; however, I never considered my family poor. We didn’t have many new toys or designer clothes, but few of our friends did, either. Nevertheless, we didn’t feel deprived by any stretch of the imagination. Our joy wasn’t found in things. It was found in spending every free minute outside with our neighbors bike riding, skating, and playing games on the playground at the public school in our neighborhood.

I’m sure many of our state legislators had similar backgrounds (maybe not as many brothers and sisters but tight budgets and a set of priorities). They need to recall those times when they convene January 11 for the 82nd Texas Legislative Session.

The doom-and-gloom scenario has already begun taking shape within our school districts: estimated budget shortfall of $20-$30 billion, 5-15 percent cuts in school district budgets, more lay-offs. We’ve also heard and read stories about this legislature planning to increase the student-teacher ratio at the elementary level. Again, one word comes to mind: priorities.

Nowhere in these discussions have I heard, “This is what’s best for students.” If you’ve never done so before, read the landmark STAR (Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio) report. It was a four-year longitudinal study on class size, funded by the Tennessee General Assembly and conducted by the state’s Department of Education. According to the STAR website (http://www.heros-inc.org/star.htm), 7,000 students in 79 schools were randomly assigned into small (13-17 students), regular (22-25 students) or regular-with-aide (22-25 students with a full-time teacher’s aide) classes. The assignments were given as the students entered kindergarten and continued through third grade.

The bottom line is that “students placed in small class sizes in grades K-3 have better high school graduation rates and higher grade point averages and are more inclined to pursue higher education. There are those today who say class size doesn’t make a difference. Educators know better. We know that when children are our priority, smaller class sizes are a given.

There is much more to this study and to this debate on class size, teacher lay-offs and school district budget cuts. We all need to get involved by talking to our legislators now. We can’t sit back and hope it doesn’t happen.

I urge all of our state legislators to place pictures of your districts’ schoolchildren in front of you as the decisions about education begin. As you consider funding “wants,” remember these children are our “needs,” now and in the future. They are our priority.

NOTE: To follow the 82nd Texas Legislature, check in often at www.capitol.state.tx.us

Chris Ardis is in her 27th year of teaching, 26 of those with McAllen ISD. Visit her website at www.chrisardis.com for education news and to read articles by McAllen Mayor Richard Cortez, Shelley Bryant, Edna Posada, and Lorena Castillo