AUSTIN – Recent cuts to public education in Texas already are starting to have an impact on the state's employment picture, with 900 school jobs lost last month alone, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Number crunchers are now estimating the impact of President Obama's American Jobs Act - if it manages to get through Congress. Texas would receive roughly the same amount in education stimulus funds that the Legislature just slashed - more than $4 billion in the next two years - half for jobs, half for modernizing facilities. Joe Wisnoski compiled the data for Moak, Casey and Associates, a school-finance consulting firm.
"This is a large sum of money. These could be significant factors for school districts over the course of the next year or two. But there's so much uncertainty with it. I think most school districts are just discounting the possibility at this point."
While Obama is urging Congress to pass the Jobs Act, Wisnoski doesn't think it's likely to be approved any time soon, given today's hyper-partisan politics. He adds, however, that federal assistance would not only lead to hiring in education and construction, but its overall stimulative effect on the economy could enlarge the tax base - which funds education.
Ken Zarifis, co-president of Education Austin, a local teachers' union, says budget cuts are not only affecting laid-off educators but employed teachers are feeling the impact as well.
"We're seeing numerous teachers calling, in terms of the numbers of kids in the class, and the difficulty of achieving the goals of the classroom because of the increased workload. And it's just the beginning of the school year."
The Austin school district would receive an estimated $102 million if the American Jobs Act became law. Zarifis supports it because he says it would help schools "get over the hump" of the current shortfall, even if it didn't fix long-term funding problems.
"Unless we can change school financing, unless we change the tax code, unless we really do the hard things that the Legislature is just scared to do, we're going to continue to return to this crisis mode, over and over, year after year."
The Texas unemployment rate has gone up for three consecutive months, and now stands at 8.5 percent, highest since 1987. Gains in the private sector have been offset by government job losses - including teacher positions.
District estimates are online at moakcasey.com.