Leaders agree on 2001-02 education budget

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 4, 2001

Staff Writer

It appears state leaders have agreed on the education budget for next year’s budget although they are still arguing over current budget concerns.

During a press conference on Tuesday, Gov. Don Siegelman announced representatives of kindergarten through 12, higher education, the Legislature and business community have agreed upon a solution for fiscal year 2001-2002.

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His proposed solution will treat K-12 and higher education fairly and equally, which is what those in higher education have been arguing for since the governor declared proration in February.

The original across-the-board cuts were fought by the Alabama Association of School Boards, which argued K-12 salaries and other programs could not be cut. Siegelman agreed, which imposed a more severe hit to Alabama colleges and universities.

Tuesday’s announcement has no bearing on proration since it is regarding next year’s budget.

"We have worked each and every day, actively pursuing a resolution to economic difficulty and the challenge of adequately funding education," Siegelman said. "There have been some difficult decisions that had to be made, but we shared in those decisions with one priority ­ the education of our children."

Siegelman’s proposed budget will divide new revenues 70 percent for K-12 and 30 percent for higher education; reduce and eliminate special projects and non-classroom expenditures from the Education Trust Fund; put special project revenues and non-classroom expenditures back in the classroom to fund implementation of teacher testing, the Alabama Reading Initiative, Alabama’s early learning initiative, technology and High Hopes; set aside funding to help schools that have financial difficulty getting through the current economic downturn.

Siegelman will also support legislation that provides flexibility to local school systems in K-12.

"This agreement will lay a positive foundation upon which we can build future success," Siegelman said.

During the press conference, Siegelman was joined by Jack Hawkins, chancellor of the Troy State University System; Paul Hubbert, executive director of the Alabama Education Association; Ed Richardson, state superintendent of Education; Tom Meredith, chancellor of the University of Alabama System; Speaker of the House Seth Hammett; Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, and Charlie McDonald, president of the Alabama Retail Association.

Hawkins, who was representing the Council of College and University Presidents, expressed appreciation to the governor and other elected officials for "their desire to consider the educational needs" of Alabama’s students.

"Recently, the governor stated that he is committed to fair funding for K-12 and higher education and he stressed his desire to eliminate the petty bickering which has divided the education community," Hawkins said. "He also stressed that real leadership is not about the talk, but it’s the walk that counts."

Hawkins said Siegelman’s announcement shows the governor’s willingness to "walk" for K-12 children and students in the state’s colleges and universities.

"My colleagues and I applaud his courage and his willingness to listen to the concerns of all his constituents," Hawkins said, adding his encouragement to work on the current budget problems.

He also pledged to work with the state’s elected officials to "move beyond the division" those in education are experiencing now.