That lost ground included 1,377 positions eliminated, mostly teachers, schools’ operating funds reduced, and few new textbooks.
What the Board of Education is proposing is to hire 459 teachers (approximately one-third of the positions slashed), increase the money to buy textbooks from $31 to $75 per student, and provide a better-funded school transportation system. While the board also thinks teachers should get a cost-of-living raise (they have not had one since 2008), it is going to leave that chore to the state Legislature, which convenes in February.
Also in the proposed budget is additional money for funding the arts programs cut due to proration. Aware that the No Child Left Behind law measured the success of schools on how well students tested on math and science, low-performing schools cut the arts to focus on the federal law. However, it has been pointed out that the arts, especially music and theater, may keep as many students in school as, dare we say it, football, so restoring this funding is important.
In addition, the proposed budget includes money to expand the state’s voluntary pre-kindergarten program, as well as annual grants of $5,000 to students in teacher-education programs who would commit to teaching four years in low-performing schools, something other states have done with considerable success. Funding for these proposals would come from the additional $408 million state fiscal experts expect to have next year because of lower unemployment rates and higher sales-tax collections.
The Alabama Education Association will surely have its own agenda and will lobby hard for it, an agenda that includes a 10-percent pay increase. While this page feels a raise is needed, a 10-percent increase would eat up nearly 80 percent of what the Board of Education wants to spend. Better to give a more modest pay raise and fund the rest of what the board proposes than spending so much on one thing.
We hope the Legislature and the public will keep in mind that the state board is an elected body, not a lobbying organization. Its duty is to the people of Alabama, not to a particular interest group. What the board has proposed will help education in a variety of ways. The Legislature should adopt as much of it as is financially possible.