AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- About 1,000 teachers and education staffers from across Texas rallied at the state Capitol on Monday, urging the Legislature to reverse $5.4 billion in cuts to public schools approved two years ago.
As part of Texas American Federation of Teachers lobby day, union leaders encouraged educators to use their spring break to gather in Austin for the demonstration — which saw many participants in blue-and-white ATF T-shirts wave signs reading "Our Kids, Our Future."
Members of some high school percussion sections also turned out and the banging of their drums reverberated off the Capitol's pink facade as the House and Senate opened their sessions in the afternoon. Later, the crowd fanned out for meetings in the offices of individual lawmakers.
Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, said leading Democrats in the Texas Senate have called for spending $4 billion from the state's cash reserves, or Rainy Day Fund, to roll back the 2011 public education cuts. The fund is expected to grow to $11.8 billion by the end of 2015.
Referencing separate proposals to spend $2 billion from the fund to improve state water infrastructure and another $1 billion from it for highways and other roads, Davis urged demonstrators to remind lawmakers "that our school children are more important than any road, any water resource."
State Board of Education member Thomas Ratliff said he opposes high-profile proposals by Sen. Dan Patrick, the head of the Senate Education Committee who wants to expand "school choice."
Patrick and some other key conservatives support offering public money to low-income parents around the state so they can remove their kids from low-performing, traditional schools in favor of private and religious classrooms.
Ratliff, a Mt. Pleasant Republican, scoffed Monday at the notion that Texas youngsters are trapped in struggling schools simply because of where they live.
"They say they want to give them choices, they even called them trapped," Ratliff said of Patrick and others' assessments of students across Texas.
"I have news for you, they're not trapped," Ratliff continued. "They do have choices and they choose to stay in their local public schools."