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Bickering continues while our kids suffer

Staff Editorial

March 21, 2001 10 PM

If The Messenger made a practice of finding a quote of the week, this week’s would certainly be a statement made by Sandra Sims-deGraffenried, director of the Alabama Association of School Boards.

She was quoted in an Associated Press story recently saying, "Last year we heard a lot of talk about getting teacher salaries to the national average. We don’t hear anybody talking about getting per-pupil funding to the national average."

She’s right. State educational groups have been clamoring for years about sickly Alabama public school teacher pay. Comparisons have been made time and time again to the "Southeastern average" that show Alabama ranking low among states with a higher average cost of living like Georgia, Florida and even Virginia.

Teachers comprise a large voting group compared to the students they teach that continue to lack access to technology, adequate textbooks and reading materials and other key essentials that would serve to help them get a better education. After all, what is an education worth if it doesn’t increase one’s job skills in adulthood?

And while politicians have fought hard to bring teacher salaries up, who among them is fighting to increase per-pupil expenditures?

They’re either hard to find or the presses in the state haven’t bothered to give them adequate ink.

Here are the facts according to the Associated Press:

· In 1993 a judge ordered Alabama to adequately and fairly fund its K-12 public schools. · At that time the state ranked 48th in the U.S. in per-pupil expenditures.

· In 1999 the state ranked 49th.

· In order to reach the national average, the state education budget would have to increase its appropriation of funds for K-12 by a whopping $700 million based on 1999’s numbers. That’s a dollar sign, seven, eight zeros, plus a couple of commas.

· 1999 numbers show the state’s average per-pupil expenditure was $4,584 compared to a regional average of $5,556 and a national average of $6,251.

Now the state is not talking about increasing per-pupil expenditures; it’s trying to find a way to cut them more in the wake of a revenue shortfall.

This is an unacceptable solution to an unacceptable problem. Irresponsibly is what led to our budget shortfall and legislators continue to sit back and wait on the courts to decide what to do due to personal fears about personal futures. It’s times like these when politicians earn the contempt that accompanies the word "politician."

Governor Siegelman insists that there will be no tax increases. Fine by us, if he plans to find a way to cut the ample fat and pork out of numerous state budgets and redirect those savings to education.

But if he means he’ll sit back and do nothing while our state’s educational fabric erodes, then it’s not fine.

We don’t want tax increases and there are programs out there that could be cut if the funds would be better used in education. But if a tax increase will help fix our problems, then a tax increase is fine with us. At least it’s an attempt to do the right thing, which is more than seems to be going on now in our state capital.

Forty nine out of 50. This serves as one more indicator that our state’s approach to education, despite what the campaign rhetoric coming from the governor’s camp and the camps of legislators all over the state, indicates.

"Education first," is apparently a slogan that rings hollow when uttered from the mouths of many of our leaders. Maybe Siegelman and others believe that if they say it enough, people will believe it, despite what the numbers show about our turn for the worse.

Call our legislators and let them know that it’s high time they took a stand for education and quit making empty promises. It’s high time that they set aside their personal ambitions for a second and quit thinking of the teachers and the tax increases. It’s time for them to think about our kids.  

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