The Whipping Boy

How did class size limits become the symbol of an unnecessary luxury in our schools?

Some of his proposals: Cut back state standardized testing to every other year for the kids who pass, stop buying textbooks that sit in a teacher's closet and instead go to more electronic textbooks, have a serious look at the cost of University Interscholastic League rules that require every school to offer every significant sport, he says.

Also, why not use long-distance, virtual learning for teachers' continuing education and cut out the need for regional service centers?

"It may be easier to increase class sizes rather than to cut a hundred other things that add up to the same amount of savings," Hochberg says. "We do a lot of pennywise, pound foolish sorts of things."
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White says the rule was and is simple: Keep it to 22 to 1, and when you get to 23, you build another classroom. "You can't afford to build another classroom, ask for a waiver."

"We let them off if they didn't have the money. They've always had the option to come in and ask for a waiver; many of them do. But we've never had anybody to come in and say, 'We just don't have the money to build that football stadium.' Somehow or another, they always found that money. So let's put our priorities right."

The former governor takes a long view of the state's present financial difficulties. 

"We've been in tough times before. I almost laugh out loud when I think about how tough things must be in Austin when oil is priced at $80 a barrel and I've sat there and lived through $9-a-barrel oil — and I didn't ask for any bailouts nor did we ever receive any bailout from the federal government," he says.

"If it's right for Texas and its future to say, 'Oh, we don't have any money,' or 'We don't have enough money to pay for a quality education for the young people of our state,' then you have made the classic mistake of not just eating your seed corn but you've poured salt on the seed corn you didn't eat," White says.

Financing schools should be the first priority of the Legislature, according to White. "Let's do our cutting somewhere else. You could quit building highways in Texas for five years and it would not hurt the future of Texas quite as much as if you change the funding on classes and quality of education in our schools today."

It makes perfect sense to argue that just one more student won't destroy a classroom. The problem is, as White's mother knew, one becomes four becomes six. And at a certain point, all the great teaching in the world won't be able to overcome the numbers-up disparity.

"It's a little difficult to put a young person's education on pause till times get better," White says. "22 to 1 should not be the whipping boy for being short of cash."

margaret.downing@houstonpress.com

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