Vote ‘yes’ and keep Alabama thriving
By By Dr. Joseph Martin, State Education Superintendent
Doubtlessly, how people vote on Nov. 4 will affect the future, perhaps unlike any vote we have seen in the last several decades.
However, my reference isn’t to the Presidential election, a Congressional race, a statewide office race, or any local election. I refer instead to the only statewide application
of a proposed Constitutional Amendment on Alabama voters’ ballots – The Rainy Day Amendment (#1 on the ballot with six others restricted to local application).
PRORATION CUTS CAUSE CLASSROOM PAIN
Just as any financial planner or economist consistently encourages individuals and families to set aside up to two months of living expenses in a secure account for the unforeseen “Rainy Day,” our state needs to update its plan for schools and the inevitable rainy day that has occurred 15 times since 1950. The term used to describe mid-year state budget cuts is proration. According to state law,
Alabama cannot operate a state budget that goes into a deficit. If the Legislature adopts an Education Budget in May for the budget year that starts each Oct. 1 and by November or December it is determined that tax revenues are not going to be sufficient to meet the full funding of the budget, cuts are made in order to create a balanced budget by the next Sept. 30 (the end of the budget year).
Is there a way to manage this proration of education funds; to ease the detrimental effect on schools?
Teachers have contracts to work 187 days and they must be honored. Utility bills and gasoline/diesel fuel bills must be paid.
Insurance and building repairs must be paid. Should the successful programs in reading, math, science, distance learning, and Pre-K be discontinued? How do schools cope with mid-year budget cuts and still deliver a quality education to students and pay their bills?
EDUCATION GAINS HAVE BEEN MADE
Everyone understands that cuts should not be made to breakthrough advances in medicine, reading, math, science, distance learning, and Pre-K. These are the strengths of our state, and cuts to such valuable programs will only make our state languish again in last or next to last place of virtually every report. Today,
Alabama schools are making excellent progress. Only last year, Alabama led the nation in reading gains by fourth grade students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). In 2008, ACT and SAT college entrance exam scores went up for Alabama but not nationally. Alabama’s minority students outscored their peers nationally on both tests.
Alabama high school students increased Advanced Placement (AP) participation by 24 percent, while the nation increased by 8 percent. Alabama has two highly acclaimed medical schools; surely we should not cut funding to train future doctors. Can we afford to lose our education momentum because of budget cuts? What can be done?
CURRENT LAW FLAWED
In 2002, Alabama voters approved a Rainy Day Amendment to our state’s Constitution.
There was one flaw in that law. It states that funds may be accessed from the state’s Oil and Gas Trust Fund (currently in excess of $3 billion) equal to 6 percent of the FY 2002 Education Budget. By stating “FY 2002,” it froze the amount of relief at that fixed amount, which equals $248 million.
Growth in the size of budgets and tax revenues means that proration in 2008-09 or beyond will have a greater monetary effect on schools than in earlier years. On Nov. 4, voters can vote to fix that critical flaw. The Rainy Day
Amendment on the 2008 ballot states in times of proration schools may access from the Oil and Gas Trust Fund an amount not to exceed “6.5 percent of the previous year’s education budget.” That change keeps the law current and enables education to better manage proration this year and in the years ahead.
IT’S A REMEDY BUT NOT A TAX
The vote on Nov. 4 is not a tax. It is not a “Wall Street” bailout. It is an opportunity to allow education to access funds from a $3 billion fund to keep classrooms from suffering deep cuts in one year. All education funds obtained from the $3 billion fund must be repaid, but over six years – not all at once – so education can repay the needed money and spread out severe cuts over several years, rather than crippling education in one year. As everyone in education knows, the cuts in a year of proration are more severe than they appear in the history books.
Cuts to textbooks, classroom materials and supplies, reading and math programs and school repairs are slow to heal.
It will take years to regain those funds that were cut, and Alabama education will fall further behind in the process.
Let’s make sure that Alabamians understand the critical vote facing our children’s future on Nov. 4 – the statewide Constitutional Amendment. A “yes” vote helps Alabama to keep making educational gains.