It’s a simple idea: when revenue rolls in during good years, rather than spend it all, the state would spend only up to a predetermined cap and put the rest in a reserve to prevent the mid-year budget-slashing known as proration that regularly affects Alabama’s spending plans.
Although this sounded good in theory, Alabama Education Association leaders pointed out that this theory had never been used with a budget as large as the Education Trust Fund. The AEA warned that in a time of declining revenues, it may lead to cuts even deeper than proration required.
That, the AEA contends, is what is about to happen.
According to the AEA’s top lobbyist, Henry Mabry, this law will require that about $150 million be cut from the Education Trust Fund next year.
If the legislation is not changed, or at least delayed in implementation, it will cap 2013 education spending at an estimated $5.48 billion. That is about 2.7 percent less than budgeted this year — or $150 million.
The dilemma is obvious.
Education already has been cut and cut and cut. In his State of the State speech, Gov. Robert Bentley promised to protect popular and successful programs like the highly regarded reading, math and science initiatives, but other programs are apparently on the cutting table. By promising to push for more local control of schools, he may be tossing that hot potato to the folks back home.
Meanwhile, if the math checks and Mabry’s estimates are correct, one of the unintended consequences that critics warned would result from the rolling reserve act is about to become reality. The result could be as damaging to Alabama schools as proration has been.
It would be well for the Legislature to revisit this act, consider its immediate consequences and, if necessary, delay its implementation until a palatable solution is found.
Unfortunately, as we have seen with the state’s illegal-immigration controversy, this Legislature does not easily admit its mistakes and correct them.
It looks like another hard year for Alabama schools.