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Proration is an ugly word that has become all too familiar

By By Rep. Ronald Grantland, Guest Columnist
The governor just called for an additional two percent proration for education effective immediately. This increases proration to a whopping 11 percent for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, a massive cut for our schools not seen in decades.
Unfortunately, the future does not seem much brighter. State officials believe that there will be a six percent proration for the upcoming school year. That means Alabama will have back-to-back proration years for the first time since the early 1990s.
In this article, the word proration has already been used many times, and get ready, it will become an all too familiar phrase as the new school year moves forward. Proration is a constitutionally mandated cut in school spending when revenue isn’t enough to cover the education budget. Our laws say the budget must be balanced no matter what, so when there is not enough revenue to meet expenses, across the board cuts are mandated.
Proration is an ugly but all too familiar word for Alabama. Since 1980, Alabama’s schools will have gone into proration nine times, including next year.
What is remarkable is that it could have been much worse. There are two rainy day funds that have kept cuts from going much deeper.
Earlier this decade when revenue growth was robust, the Legislature set up a statutory rainy day account that saved any remaining funds. More than a half-billion was saved, and we were able to use that money to cover shortfalls over the past couple of years.
After the last bout of proration in 2001, the Legislature set up, and voters approved, a constitutional rainy day fund. That allowed schools to borrow money from the Alabama Trust Fund where offshore oil and gas revenue is kept.
The governor has now drawn down all of that money to soften the cuts, but as the economy continues to stumble, it was nowhere near enough to prevent proration.
The reason proration is so common is because we have tied education funding to the most volatile revenue sources: sales and income taxes. We earmark these taxes solely for education, so when you buy something at the store, or you see the state taxes on your paycheck, you can know that every penny is going to education.
Most states fund schools with property taxes. That is a more stable source of revenue because there is not a lot of fluctuation from year to year. Alabama is overall the lowest tax state in the nation. Our property taxes are lowest by far.
When unemployment rises and economy slows as it is right now, the outcome of our school funding system is proration.
New school bus purchases have been put off. New textbook purchases have been delayed. Technology purchases are on hold. Utility budgets have been slashed. Classroom supply funds have been eliminated. The cuts have been made as orderly and targeted as possible, with an emphasis on maintaining the necessities for teaching and learning.
However, parents can expect a longer supply list coming from their children’s schools, with even basics like copy paper on the list.
And let’s hope that the economy makes its inevitable rebound at some point in the near future. Not only will it be good for families and our communities, but it will also help get our schools the support they deserve.