The state Legislature can suggest a tax increase for education.
Or legislators can pull out their Ginsu knives and start slicing away chunks of the education budget — meaning a few thousand teachers could be jettisoned, face wage cuts or the loss of paid in-service days. Either way, proration might be avoided.
That’s the message being pushed by officials from two prominent education groups in the state: Stop proration by matching education expenditures against revenue.
“The bottom line is, the (education) budget has to be real” and not based on weak projections, Sally Howell, executive director of the Alabama Association of School Boards, said in a meeting Monday with Star editors.
Problem is, the aforementioned options taste like castor oil to Alabamians married to the low-tax, low-service, low-results mentality. Election year or not, few legislators will suggest cuts to schools or statewide tax increases. Plus, the omnipotence of the Alabama Education Association stands sentinel against any proposal that would take salary or jobs from teachers.
Gov. Bob Riley has ordered proration — across-the-board budget cuts when revenue falls short of projections — for two years, yet his budget for the next fiscal year excludes teacher layoffs.
Riley’s proposal expects modest state revenue growth and another round of federal stimulus money. Combined, those items would retain teachers’ jobs and keep education funding above catastrophic levels, Riley claims.
Howell and Susan Lockwood, executive director of the School Superintendents of Alabama, are no fans of that logic.
Even if that plan works, Lockwood and Howell say it’s the type of temporary-fix mentality that drains local school system reserves and doesn’t solve the problem — for good. At its base level, their judgment is sound.
What’s more, their groups deserve praise for raising our awareness. It was frightening Monday to hear that nearly half of the state’s school systems have secured lines of credit in case they need to borrow to make ends meet, and that some schools may face inevitable closure.
Today, Lockwood and Howell are concentrating on Alabamians’ understanding of the problem’s seriousness. But their message would be bolstered if they’d put the weight of their associations behind a doable solution, as well.
If they believe cutting teacher in-service days is the best cost-saving option — which they listed as a possible alternative to layoffs — then they should push that idea in Montgomery. While they are at it, why not write their own proposed Education Trust Fund budget, proposing cuts as well as ways to increase revenue?
They’ve explained that there’s a problem. They’ve told us that Riley’s plan has profound flaws. Now, what’s the best way to fix it?
One caution: Alabama has earned its reputation as a state that tries to fund public education on the cheap. Any proposal that would take away from the mission of educating students should be a non-starter.