If we listen to the keening cries of educrats and liberals everywhere, we would be convinced that kids in Texas are going to school shoeless, likely to contract polio because they didn’t get their shots, and will have to write their lessons with blood because they don’t have pencils.  The news coming out of Houston from last weekend is certainly being spun that way – but the truth is much different.

Budgeting woes in Texas’ school districts were the main topic of conversation throughout most of this past legislative session.  It was all doom and gloom, as many of the largest districts (which are also home to some of Texas’ most disadvantaged kids) faced budget shortfalls even before the Legislature was done figuring out how to split a smaller pie fairly.  It is with that echo still in our ears that news comes from Houston that HISD has an actual surplus of cash that they are trying to decide how to spend.

A surplus totaling $18.5 million, or enough to hire 411 teachers at the base rate of $45,000.

The school board is supposed to make a decision today about what to use this money for.  The district cut over $100 million from their budget, about $275 per student in HISD, so this is money that wasn’t budgeted and that they weren’t really anticipating.  They could save it for a rainy day, true.  However, there is more going on in Houston.

Over the weekend, a handful of prominent liberal bloggers picked up on a story in the Houston Chronicle about Houston’s first-ever back-to-school event for the city at the George R. Brown Convention Center.  Reports that over 100,000 people may have been there waiting to get school supplies, vaccinations, and fresh produce.  The event proved so popular that they had to close the doors and turn away people after just three hours.

Of course, this story was reported as a supposed contrast to Governor Rick Perry’s prayer rally, The Response, which was happening at Reliant Stadium during the same time.  We conservatives are supposed to feel remorse that 30,000 people were praying for our country mere miles from where this grab for free things was taking place.

I don’t mean to sound callous.  There is real need out there, and adequate school supplies are an increasing problem every year (vaccinations are less of an issue – if you need them and can’t afford them, the county health department can help you, and here’s a list of places and dates for immunizations in Harris County – there really aren’t many excuses, people).  But the sideways criticism and outright ridicule of people who came together to pray is ridiculous.  

As for school supplies – plenty of drives and distribution are happening for students in need in Harris County.  The Houston Apartment Association collected supplies in July and delivered them last week.  The Greater Heights Chamber held a drive to benefit Eugene Field Elementary School.  ComedySportz in Memorial is holding a school supply drive for the DePelchin Children’s Center, the largest provider of children’s social and mental health services in the Houston area.  KHOU-11 is hosting a school supply and donation drive with the Houston Food Bank, and there’s more information about donating online here.  Cy-Fair Magazine reported that Crossover Bible Fellowship will be collecting school supplies at a back-to-school rally this month.  And there’s a great list of school supply drives happening around Houston at the Examiner.  It is worth noting that nearly every community in Texas has someone organizing this kind of activity to help kids in need – and if there’s not one where you are, consider organizing one yourself.

All of this to come back to the extra money sitting in Houston ISD’s coffers.  There is a real need for this money to either be saved altogether or be used to directly benefit the classrooms in HISD.  Hire more teachers if you can, but consider using the money to offset the needs of the children.  It’s just one idea that would directly benefit the kids, who after all, should be the biggest concern when we’re talking about education.

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