As the budgets have been written, debated, and rewritten, some difficult decisions have forced upon this body, particularly with respect to the Education Budget. We’ve had to make decisions about whether to cut the benefits and compensation of educators, or to keep the lights on in the classroom; whether to revamp and fund a program designed to recruit and retain the best and brightest educators, or to fund liability insurance for the educators we have. And, these decisions don’t even account for the cost of replacing the school systems completely destroyed by the recent tornadoes that devastated North Alabama.
These have not been easy decisions, especially when some revenue options aren’t even on the table for discussion. HB373, for example, would require any corporation with a “business nexus” in the State of Alabama to pay income tax on the income generated here, just as any small business would do. In short, a corporation making profits in Alabama as a result of the business conducted here would pay taxes on that income, even if it’s incorporated in Delaware (a popular tax lawyer trick). Currently, such corporations pay no State income taxes, and such revenue makes up a a large part of the money we would otherwise use to fund our schools. Believe it or not, HB373 has not even gotten a hearing in committee, despite numerous requests and assurances from the House floor that it would.
This revenue shortage in our education fund has a profound impact, not just on schools across the State, but also in the schools in our individual districts. In 2008, my predecessor had over $62,000 in discretionary funds to distribute in the community for education-related purposes. This year, there is less that $33,000 to spend in my district. These are dollars that I could use to help the schools in my district buy books or uniforms for their students, or to pay for a long-needed project that they cannot fit into an already stretched budget. As it stands, I will either have to split the money evenly between all nine schools ($3,666 apiece), or I will have to prioritize the few dollars we have.
I’ve done considerable research on school funding as I’ve studied the issue and talked to my principals, and I’ve come to learn that not all schools are funded equally. All schools receive county and State funds, but some schools, for example, receive federal dollars for every child enrolled who receives free or reduced lunches (correlated to whether that child’s proximity to the poverty line). After talking with many of my principals, I’ve come to the conclusion that in prioritization of dollars, we must first consider the Title I dollars available to a school, and, second, we must weigh the ability of students to raise their own money or to bring supplies from home. The principals tell me that it is difficult to convince parents of high school kids to send school supplies. There are a few factors outstanding that I need to consider before I distribute my discretionary dollars at the end of the month, and there remain a couple of principals I’ve been unable to reach. But, after considering all these factors, I hope to prioritize my discretionary dollars for the schools in my district that need them most. That said, no school will go without because all have legitimate needs.
These are just some of the difficult decisions that must be made in difficult economic times. What is hardest is not that some schools and their students will go without. It’s that they don’t have to. Under our current budgetary situation, we can’t avoid forcing a principal to choose between repairing a leaky roof and replacing 10 year old text books. Unless we have more options on the table for funding our schools, our children will continue to be short-changed in the classroom, and I just hope that decision hasn’t already been made.