Appreciation And Apprehension At Exes’ Annual Teaching Conference

The Alumni Center has all the energy of a buzzing school today as 100 of Texas’ best K-12 teachers swarm in for the Conference on Texas Excellence in Education.

The conference, now in its 18th year, honors 10 veteran high school teachers, two elementary school teachers, and 10 “rising stars” annually — plus invites back all the previous award recipients to network and exchange ideas, too. The awards were endowed nearly two decades ago by Texas Exes who were passionate about education in the state.

It’s always a heartwarmer to hear the stories of the new winners. Like Colleyville’s Karen Knott, who calls herself K2 and uses jokes like “Don’t Drink and Derive” to make math fun. Or San Antonio’s Cathy Ehlers, who will call or even knock on the doors of students at her alternative high school who are absent without being excused.

This year, though, there is a real tension in the air as teachers steel themselves against brutal state budget cuts in education.

The teachers heard this morning from David Thompson, a Houston attorney with an active practice in education issues. He braced them for what is coming.

Facing a shortfall, the state’s starting budget proposes reducing public school budgets by $9.85 billion, he said, which works out to about $1,000 per student or $20,000 per classroom.

The teachers slumped in their seats at the prospect.

The question, Thompson said, is how much of Texas’ $9.4 billion Rainy Day Fund will be applied toward the education shortfall. Ultimately, he expects about $5 billion to be appropriated there — but that still leaves a gap in investment for a state that adds around 94,000 students to its rolls per year.

“Education ties more closely with productivity and prosperity than any other single thing the state can spend money on,” Thompson said. “It is not just good from a social and moral perspective — it is good from an economic investment perspective.”

Of course, Thompson was preaching to the choir. The real question, he said, will be how the rest of Texas responds to the possible devastation of education.


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