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Education Commissioner Urges Districts To Begin Making Hard Decisions About Cuts

Photo by Nathan Bernier for KUT News
Education Commissioner Robert Scott addressing school administrators at a conference in Austin said they need to start reducing their budgets now to show lawmakers they are willing to cooperate in helping to close the budget gap.

With the state budget leaders proposing to cut as much as $10 billion from public education to help close a state budget gap of between $15 and $27 billion, Education Commissioner Robert Scott warned hundreds of school administrators gathered in Austin this afternoon that Texas is facing the most difficult legislative session for public education in his lifetime.

“I can tell you that the challenges we face during this session and beyond are going to be daunting. They’re going to be staggering. They’re going to be overwhelming,” Scott said this afternoon during his keynote speech at the Texas Association of School Administrators’ midwinter conference. He delivered the speech shortly after having been reappointed to another term as education commissioner by Gov. Rick Perry.
Scott said he is confident the cuts to education in the House and Senate budget proposals would be scaled back, but he said some lawmakers are waiting for school administrators to show they have the fiscal discipline to begin making painful reductions to their operating budgets.
“I know many of you have already looked at positions in your districts, and I’ve seen stories about hiring freezes and looking at cuts,” Scott said. “I think there are those in the legislature who are waiting to see that happen. I think they want to know that you all are taking this as seriously as we are. And they’re waiting for you to say, ‘Let’s make this work.’”
Scott began his keynote speech with a question and answer session before proceeding into a series of slides that focused on Texas’ strides in educational achievement. Many of the questioners were looking for answers on how their budgets might be affected, and what sort of relief the Texas Education Agency might be able to offer.
Scott answered one question, for example, about whether he intends to approve an anticipated round of waiver requests from school districts seeking to furlough employees for one day per week.
“What I would say is, I still value the number of instructional days, and I want to keep as many of those as we possibly can,” Scott said.  The Commissioner suggested that an alternative might be to give districts the authority to lower employee salaries.
On highlighting Texas achievements in public education, Scott pointed to Texas’ graduation rate, as measured by standards adopted by the National Governor’s Association. By the NGA measurement, Texas had a graduation rate of 80.6 percent in 2009, Scott said. In that year, Texas’ white population had the highest graduation rate in the country. The Hispanic rate was third highest. And the African-American graduation rate was fourth-highest in the country, according to Scott.
“You’re going to hear a lot of talk about efficiency this session,” Scott said from the stage. “I would simply point out where the state of Texas is already demonstrating massive amounts of efficiency in comparison to other states.”
You can listen to Education Commissioner Robert Scott’s entire address by clicking the player below, or right click on the player to save as an mp3. The speech is about 55 minutes long.

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.