Sherry Dana's reason for joining a rally protesting cuts in public education spending was summed up by a quote from the Italian poet Dante on a cloth bag slung over her shoulder: "The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality."
As far as the retired Austin teacher is concerned, this is no time for neutrality.
"We want kids to be educated," she said. "It makes this a better country."
Leaders of the Save Texas Schools coalition said more than 4,500 teachers, administrators, students and parents from across the state participated in Saturday's rally at the Capitol and march leading up to it. Capitol police estimated the turnout at 1,000. Either way, the crowd was energetic and peaceful under mostly blue, sunny skies.
A coalition rally last spring drew thousands more because of heightened interest during one of the Legislature's regular sessions, which take place in odd-numbered years. But the Republican-led Legislature, grappling with a gaping budget hole, wasn't dissuaded from reducing by $4 billion the amount owed to school districts in the two-year budget. Lawmakers sliced an additional $1.3 billion from grant programs, including full-day pre-kindergarten and help for students struggling to pass high-stakes standardized tests.
Speakers and attendees at Saturday's rally said the way to turn things around is by voting out the budget-cutters. They stopped short of endorsements but occasionally criticized Republicans in general and GOP Gov. Rick Perry in particular.