Education keeps getting the shaft

Published 12:14 am Wednesday, September 25, 2002

By By ROBERT BLANKENSHIP – Managing Editor
Last week, I completed a series of articles about how funding cuts are impacting our local schools. While proration and the so-called "reduced funding" has brought the issue to the forefront, for most Alabamians, it is an issue older than the hills. Throughout my life, it seems that education funding has been a key issue in the state. Despite this, it always seems to get tossed aside as voters and politicians move on other more immediate issues such as filling potholes, repairing statues and building new and improved walking trails.
The truth may be that our state and local leaders do not want to deal with the education problem. Perhaps it is simply too hard and would require too much effort.
It seems that education always gets its fair share of media coverage during election years. This year is no different. Unfortunately, the two men who could do the most in the fight for education are not coming forth with ideas that will solve the problem.
Governor candidates Don Siegelman and Bob Riley have both said they have plans for funding education. Siegelman has gone back to his old idea - a state lottery. He also has mentioned the idea of having Alabama industries pay higher taxes to help fund education. The second of those ideas would probably be closer to acceptable for most working Alabamians.
In Bob Riley's campaign plan, you know the one with him riding a horse, he correctly states that: "The only way to (improve education) is by breaking with the stagnant policies and rhetoric of the past and embracing change. We have endured a succession of governors who promised to be Alabama's education governor, only to be disappointed time and again as we saw them stray from their campaign convictions and ultimately conform to the narrow special interests that have strangled Montgomery and held both our state and our children's education back."
Usually, a statement like that would give fathers and mothers of school-aged children across this state a reason to rush to the polls. But, as you read on into the bulk of the plan, he speaks more about "political rhetoric" and "public confidence" in schools. He also says his administration will have a "Governor's Commission on Education Spending."
While these are ideas, they are not going to solve the problems facing our schools. The last thing we need is a commission to study how each and every educational dime is spent. A commission would take some time to conduct the study and instead of bringing money into education it will be taking it away. As for bringing confidence back into schools, I've yet to live in an Alabama community where residents did not completely and totally adore their schools and the teachers. There is no lack of confidence in Alabama schools, only a lack of confidence in the leaders that continue to ignore the real problem.
The real problem is that the state's tax system is out of sync with the the 21st century. It was even out of sync for a majority of the 20th century. Schools should not have to depend on the volatile system we have in place today. They deserve more.
No, we don't need a commission to study the education problem, nor do we need another vote on a lottery. What we need is for the men and women in Montgomery to do their jobs. They should stop everything and work day and night to find funding for education. They should begin the huge chore of rewriting the Alabama Constitution to update our tax system and give education the money and stability it needs to grow.
Brewton Superintendent Lynn Smith said it best when he said the education problem would have to be solved through "statesmanship." Unfortunately, statesmen are harder to find in Alabama than a trillion education dollars.

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