Governor signs School

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 29, 2001

Funding Act on Friday


Staff Writer

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As the school year comes to a close, school system leaders are still trying to finalize figures for next year’s funding.

This past Friday, Gov. Don Siegelman signed the School Funding Act, which is meant to ease the effects of proration on Alabama’s public schools, colleges and universities.

"Signing this bill into law ensures that all students are treated equally, which has been our objective since the beginning," Siegelman said.

According to Siegelman, the legislation will ensure students and teachers are protected and all segments of education are treated equally after the Alabama Supreme Court rules in the proration lawsuit.

Attorneys had until yesterday to file legal documents in the case that pits the governor and the state finance director against the Alabama Association of School Boards, Pike County Board of Education and Mobile County Board of Education, which initiated the lawsuit to stop proration.

Earlier this month, the Alabama Supreme Court expedited the case by setting filing deadlines.

"The pace has picked up a pretty good clip," said Sandra Sims-deGraffenried, executive director of the AASB, adding action by the court has cut the time in half. "We see them moving along."

If anything, she said, the Supreme Court’s action to move things at a quicker pace, "might make the Legislature take notice."

In the meantime, Alabamians will continue to wait to see how the Supreme Court will treat a 1995 law that protects teachers’ salaries from across-the-board cuts.

On April 11, the state’s highest court voted 8-0 to delay the ruling of Montgomery Circuit Judge Tracey McCooey in a dispute of planned cuts for the Education Trust Fund.

Siegelman said the recent national economic downturn "forced" a $266 million reduction in the state’s education budget, which is primarily based on sales and income taxes. Through the legislation, the Public School and College Authority can sell up to $110 million in bonds to bring the reductions in this year’s education budget to 3.76 percent.

State Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, voted in favor of the bond issue, but State Rep. Alan Boothe, D-Troy, cast a dissenting vote in the House of Representatives.

"We all did what we thought was best," Mitchell said. "It does solve the problem, temporarily."

Mitchell said the Senate was "in a quagmire" and believes budgets will be evaluated more closely in the future.

"Somewhere along the line, someone ought to pat us on the back," Mitchell said during an interview last week.

Boothe had "mixed feelings" about the bond issue, but cast a "nay" vote.

"I don’t see how you can borrow your way out of debt," Boothe said. I didn’t think it was the right thing to do."