Consider those sincere, if not rhetorical, questions. Alabama’s future is indelibly tied to the quality of the education its children receive. Substandard schools, poorly funded academic programs and weak salaries for top teachers don’t do the trick.
It’s unfortunate that Alabama is a poster child for public education done on the cheap. We wish it weren’t so. We wish Alabama’s schools — especially those here in Calhoun County — were among the best-supported in the nation.
Instead, Thursday we received a modern-day picture of the reality of our public education, courtesy of researchers at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Only one state — Oklahoma (22.8 percent) — has endured a steeper decline in per-student spending, inflation-adjusted, between fiscal 2008 and fiscal 2014 than has Alabama (20.1 percent). They are the only states that have cut funding more than 20 percent from pre-recession levels, researchers said.
It gets worse. In the same seven-year period, Alabama has had the largest decline in per-student spending, a $1,242 deficit. Only one other state, Wisconsin, has suffered a four-figure change.
In the words of the CBPP researchers, “Restoring school funding should be an urgent priority. The steep state-level K-12 spending cuts of the last several years have serious consequences for the nation.”
Those researchers highlighted many of the points we’ve long discussed. Perhaps the biggest: that lawmakers in most states don’t have the stomach to consider new revenue streams. Here, there’s never substantive talk of increasing revenue to better Alabama’s schools, if not Alabamians’ lives.
Lawmakers beholden to the Republican mantra of death to all tax increases have chosen an ineffective path — cutting state programs and personnel to keep the budgets afloat. Often the shortfall lands in the laps of local school system officials, who have few ways to make up the difference.
The researchers wrote, “States have disproportionately relied on spending cuts to close the very large budget shortfalls they have faced over the last several years, rather than a more balanced mix of spending cuts and revenue increases … States could have lessened the cuts to education funding and made more progress in restoring the funding that has been lost if they had been more willing to raise additional revenue.”
Gov. Robert Bentley habitually touts the money his administration has saved. It’s doubtful, however, that he’ll be quick to address this public embarrassment.