Statewide reform critical to improve public education

Published 11:28 pm Wednesday, August 29, 2001

By Staff
As schools in Alabama finish up their annual budgets, they are all discovering the same plain fact that schools throughout the state are learning there isn't enough money to go around.
During regular and special legislative sessions this year, Alabama's Legislature declared that funding for schools would be prorated by 6.2 percent, a cut which in effect restricts many educational opportunities for children attending some of the state's poorer school systems. From new computer systems and textbooks to extra-curricular activities and teacher units, those school systems are being forced to take a long, hard look at the absolute necessities, and unfortunately many of the tools that are normally important to the learning environment are being cut from systems' budgets.
Needless to say, this state needs a change right now, and it doesn't appear to be coming any time soon from the man in the governor's mansion, Don "The Education Governor" Siegelman. So what are we left to do?
A few solutions come to mind.
First of all, it is obvious our state needs to complete an overhaul of its 100-year-old Constitution in a manner that results in a fair tax structure. By adequately taxing property and other services in an equitable way, like nearly every other state in the union does, funds earmarked for education will no doubt overflow from state coffers. Granted, this will be a hard pill to swallow, particularly for big landowners and other special interests, but as the old clich goes, "No pain, no gain."
Others who would be forced to choke down that bitter pill include of course our lawmakers, who, if the Constitution is overhauled via a constitutional convention as it should be, would be shut out of the rewriting of the state law. Understandably, many of those lawmakers are already proclaiming opposition to their exclusion from the process. After all, if the people of this state are able to rewrite our Constitution and fairly fund education, those lawmakers would no longer be able to keep their constituents ignorant enough to recast a ballot for their incumbent representatives.
Secondly, the state Legislature, when it is not quibbling over insignificant matters, should take a hard look at what is done with funds allotted to education. It seems unusual that many school systems throughout the state that are bemoaning the agony of proration are somehow able to erect new school buildings and complete other construction projects.
The funding for these projects is coming from the education budget. However the money is given to the school systems under the stipulation that it be used only for capital improvements. Under a normal budgeting cycle, those stipulations are probably a good idea. However, when the systems are facing financial confines of proration, they should be given the flexibility to spend the money on those aforementioned necessities.
Again, this school funding issue would likely be a matter addressed in an effort to reform, or more precisely, rewrite our Constitution.
No matter how you slice it, serious change is absolutely essential to making education in our state better. As the past has shown us, our other alternative is to continue to fight for 49th place in a 50-state competition. Our children deserve better.

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