Having swung twice and missed, the governor and 140 members of the Alabama State Legislature are down to their last strike in trying to come up with a general fund budget before the next fiscal year rolls around on October 1. Right now it is mostly a blame game in Montgomery with all involved pointing fingers at someone else.
Bulletin: With leadership rarely on display in the capital city, no one who is a participant in this fiasco can claim their hat is white.
There was an attempt to move revenue from use taxes from the Education Trust Fund to the General Fund in the special session. This would cost ETF $250 million. As expected, the education community pushed backed strongly with a barrage of emails and phone calls to senators. While this measure came out of committee with a favorable 8-6 vote, it never came to the senate floor before they closed up shop and went home on Aug. 11.
However, apparently Governor Bentley did not get the message as he now says that some existing dollars in the state’s better-funded education budget should be moved to the General Fund. Bentley has said those dollars that move over should be replaced by revenue from new taxes.
(Will someone please tell me why you would take monies from one pot, move them to another, and then talk about finding new taxes to go to the first pot that you just took money from? Where I come from this sounds more like a check kiting scheme than anything else and people go to jail for attempting it.)
Bentley said moving money from the education budget into the General Fund is a fundamental change in how the budget process works and he will continue to push to make it happen.
“There will be some tough decisions made,” said Bentley. “The decisions will be to adequately fund the essential services of state government or not. …These cuts affect people’s lives. They affect people.”
He is right. Public education is an essential service of state government. Many would say that it is the MOST essential service. And yes, it does affect the lives of people, a great many of whom are less than 10 years of age. We have 300,000 children in Alabama in poverty. You could fill up Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa THREE times with just children of poverty.
Unfortunately, try as we might, many of them will never escape the grasp of poverty. But those who do will look back someday and thank a caring teacher and a concerned school. For most, education is their ONLY hope.
Most people in Alabama know that Governor Bentley has not taken a salary since taking office. This is admirable and appreciated. But this is only possible because the governor had a career that was financially rewarding. And what made this career possible? His education.
Like me and many other Alabamians, Robert Bentley was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. We both graduated from rural high schools in 1961 and headed off to college. He became a physician; I became a journalist. We can both thank public schools and their teachers for giving us the foundation that carried us this far.
Governor, before you call the next special session I suggest you spend a couple of days visiting schools in rural parts of the state or in downtown Mobile or Birmingham. Stop by Berry Elementary in Fayette County and let the principal, Debbie Devours, explain how she has to fundraise to pay for telephone service and copying machines.
My guess is that no one in the governor’s office is bothered by such. Last time I was in the state capitol I did not see machines selling snacks lining the halls so that workers there could keep their phone service working.
Governor, be sure and tell the principals and teachers you meet they have all the resources they need. And tell me where you are going because I want to be there to see the looks on their faces when you do.
Larry Lee led the study, Lessons Learned from Rural Schools, and is a long-time advocate for public education. firstname.lastname@example.org read his blog: larryeducation.com