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Texas Proposal Envisions Cuts to Textbook Budget

Once again, Texas officials may target textbooks to cut costs during difficult fiscal times. On the potential chopping block is state aid for books and related materials in English/language arts and science, among other things.

I first learned about this development from a Dallas Morning News story.

The Texas Education Agency has just produced a plan, in response to a call from Republican Gov. Rick Perry, outlining 10 percent in cuts to K-12 education in the next two-year budget. (Apparently, Perry required all state agencies to come up with recommended reductions.) Other areas of education in the cross hairs include teacher merit pay and new science labs.

The budget-cutting plan comes in the wake of a state revenue shortfall that could reach $18 billion, the Morning News story explains.

I checked in with Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, about the situation. She explained that, if approved, the proposed cuts would mean that students would be missing out on some curricular materials reflecting recently revised standards in both ELA and science.

The state was originally scheduled to buy new science textbooks for all students in 2013, she explained. But because officials knew the budget was going to be tight, the state board of education had already paired down the funding request to simply ask for supplemental science materials for grades 5-8 in biology, physics, chemistry, and a course called "Integrated Physics and Chemistry." These materials were only going to focus on the new standards that the board had added when it rewrote the state's curriculum framework, she said. (That rewrite was completed in 2009.)

"If the legislature adopts the 10 percent cut proposal, we wouldn't have money to buy even this material," she said.

Meanwhile, in ELA, Ratcliffe said the state has already purchased about half the textbooks for classrooms—primarily K-8 reading books and grades 6-12 literature books. Those are in classrooms as of this fall. The state had split the purchase in two pieces because of the high cost, she said.

"Now, we won't be able to make the second half of the purchase for the books listed in that budget document—unless the legislature appropriates some funding," she said.

Ratcliffe did note that the budget plan would cover "continuing contracts so new students can still get books and lost books will still be replaced."

Stepping back, she said: "In general, ... any time we are requested to cut our budgets, textbooks become a likely target for the cuts because they are such a costly item."

In all, the Texas Education Agency identified $262 million in K-12 cuts for the upcoming biennium, with the single largest item being the $48 million in proposed reductions for textbooks and related instructional materials.

Several proposed textbook purchases in recent years have been postponed because of budget problems, the Morning News story said.

Indeed, in an EdWeek story earlier this year about the controversial effort to rewrite social studies standards, we indicated that the budget situation could well cause delays in when the state would actually purchase new textbooks that reflect those standards.

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