Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 23, 2002

Where is Riley’s plan?


BNI Newswire

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Less than three weeks after the primary, Gov. Don Siegelman’s campaign has been highlighting his plan to fund education in Alabama – and criticizing GOP opponent Bob Riley for not having a plan.

But David Azbell, spokesman for Riley – the Third District Congressman seeking the state’s highest office – said Riley will announce a comprehensive plan later this summer.

"We’ve not even had the primary runoff yet," Azbell said.

Siegelman’s four-point plan to improve education funding includes having corporations paying their "fair share" of taxes, giving local school boards more control over their schools, protecting the Education Trust Fund and introducing a lottery to help pay for education.

That last prong of the plan has garnered the most attention – and the most criticism. Riley has said he is opposed to any form of gambling, and state Superintendent Ed Richardson said earlier this week that he is also opposed to a lottery – but for a different reason.

Richardson, who supported a lottery when Siegelman proposed it in 1998 to pay for a scholarship program, told Alabama Public Television Monday that a lottery – estimated to raise about $140 million – would mislead voters.

"I don’t believe I’m prepared to support it at this point because I do not wish people to be misled that it would bring in sufficient funds to solve our education problems in any substantive way," he said.

Siegelman later told reporters that the lottery is just part of his plan to raise money.

Richardson has proposed a $1.6 billion plan to make education adequate for all of Alabama’s children.

State school officials will have to make that pitch to legislators.

Azbell said Riley wants to look at education spending, not just education funding.

"Before we address funding in education, we need to take a look at the funding side," he said, noting that between 1990 and 2000, the education budget increased by $1.5 billion – but "teachers must still buy school supplies for classrooms and students are still sharing books."

Azbell said Riley favors a policy that demands accountability from schools, as well as prior year budgeting – rather than budgeting based on predicted growth.