For more than a century Democrats called the shots in Montgomery with the AEA as a close ally in elections and a power broker in getting bills, budgets and raises passed in the state legislature.
Changing political fortunes have put the Democrats, and the AEA, on the outside looking in as GOP leaders call the shots.
Under the Democrats, election-year raises for teachers were a foregone conclusion, with a disregard for finances that led to proration nine times between 1970 and 2009—proration that didn’t simply mean tightening of belts. It’s proration that led to thousands of non-tenured employees losing their jobs because there was no flexibility in the system to spread out the shortfall. Budgets and raises were based on overoptimistic guesses about how much revenue would come in. It was a shortsighted system that allowed no bend, no compromise.
With the Republicans in power, one of the first bills they passed was a “Rolling Reserve” system for the education budget, an idea intended to base revenue projections on an average of revenue growth over the past 15 years, with some of the money set aside in a rainy day fund to make up shortfalls in down economic years, with the hope of ending proration. That’s not a bad idea, but coming off of four years of an economic downturn, it’s a plan that needed a gradual transition, but instead calls for a transfer from the Education Trust Fund to the reserve fund of more than $100 million this year.
Gov. Bentley signed the law, but couldn’t make the $6 billion budget work within the constraints of the rolling reserve act—so his plan was to divert $92 million in sales tax revenue directly to the budget without sending it to the Education Trust Fund to bypass the law.
Last week the state senate gutted a two percent teacher raise Bentley proposed to try to make the budget work, but still ended up $23 million over the limit imposed by the rolling reserve act. Shortsighted. No bend. No compromise.
AEA head Henry Mabry says the money is there. It’s in the money being set aside under the rolling reserve act. It’s in the $19 million in what he calls pork—allocations for a wide-ranging number of non-school programs, a whole litany of programs. Just a few: the Supreme Court Library; the Sports Hall of Fame; the Film Initiative Program; The Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Institute for Accountability and Government Efficiency.
There’s another $10 million allocated for three private schools, with Tuskegee Institute slated to receive the lion’s share at a little more than $9 million, Talladega College $632,997, and Lyman Ward $273,376.
Our politics has gotten more polarized. Our representatives have found it harder to talk to members of the opposing party to find solutions that work well. Each side wants to have it their way and no other way, when the public good is usually better served by a solution somewhere in between. Shortsighted. No bend. No compromise.