K-12 cuts run deeper than higher ed cuts

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Staff Editorial

March 8, 2001 10 PM

Students and officials representing higher education have converged on the capitol along with officials representing K-12 school districts throughout the state.

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All are there for the same thing, which is to fight for their funding which has become jeopardize by proration.

And while the scales appear to be tipped in favor of higher education due to vocal opposition to cutting funding, there are some key factors that may explain the level of interest in this problem.

Higher education’s proponents are people who have clout. They are college presidents and vice presidents. They are wealthy alumni who own their own businesses and serve as CEOs of major corporations. They are students who are at a point in their lives when they are dedicated to political activity.

And they’re right to do what they’re doing. Higher education does need adequate funding and our programs must be competitive if we are to produce top graduates.

Now consider the number of Alabama legislators on the payroll of institutions of higher learning. There are quite a few to say the least.

But who is at the capitol to represent K-12 education? A couple of school superintendents. A few educational lobbyists. But back home, no press releases are flooding newspaper offices from the local school systems because unlike colleges, they don’t have entire public relations departments.

No students are with those superintendents because all are too young and too unaware to converge on the capitol in a show of support.

Imagine if that weren’t the case. Imagine of kindergartners throughout Alabama showed up on the steps of the capitol waving signs reading, "Don’t take away my text books," or "What will I grow up to be without a decent education?" What if the faces of tens of thousands of little children converged on our legislative delegation? What if they had the ability to understand the problem well enough to tug on the jackets of hurried legislators and say, "Please don’t take away our teachers."

We believe the legislature has created havoc where order once existed by fiscal irresponsibility and self-concern that led legislators to approve billions of dollars in expenses from the education budget that did nothing for K-12 or higher education. Funding such things as supercomputers and civil rights museums has left our children out in the cold. The reason this was done was so legislators could add plenty of pork to the budget so they could come back home and pass out checks. We are all paying for that now.

We don’t say that higher education should be cut. We don’t believe K-12 should be cut. But we realize, looking at the hands that are extended and the dollars that are available to be distributed that something has to give.

We believe that something should be a good mix of higher education and K-12. We think higher education should bear more of the burden. It has additional funding sources and it has the ability to better absorb the cuts. Furthermore, if a satisfactory job isn’t done on a K-12 level, what we do in our colleges doesn’t really matter.

Let’s look at a way to split the cuts, but in doing so, we encourage legislators to be willing to let a sizeable portion of those cuts come from higher education.

It’s a tough choice to make, but after creating the problem in the first place, it’s the least our legislature can do.  

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