Insight: What’s fair for Alabama students — Legislature must give state’s schools proper funding
by Tommy Bice
Special to The Star
Feb 23, 2014 | 10413 views |  0 comments | 29 29 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jennifer Brasher, left, and Tammy Owen work with kindergartners at Anniston’s Constantine Elementary School. Photo: Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star
Jennifer Brasher, left, and Tammy Owen work with kindergartners at Anniston’s Constantine Elementary School. Photo: Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star
What makes K-12 public education unique is that we accept all students regardless of their gifts or challenges. I find it interesting that I often hear the statement, “If they would just run it like a business it would improve.”

We have in fact taken many of the practices from business and industry and applied them to our operations and functions with positive results, but there is one significant difference. At the Hyundai plant down Interstate 65, managers have a quality-

control function over the parts that they receive to build the automobiles. If an imperfect part or batch of parts arrive, managers simply return them.

In public education, we have no control over the students we serve, as we serve all students — imperfections and all — and do so gladly because that is what makes public education so rich . . . our diverse student body. We would want it no other way.

At the end of the day, we account for every dollar spent in the categories outlined in the state and local budget reports posted monthly on our state website and audited annually for assurance to the public that their tax dollars are being spent appropriately.

We are accountable for student achievement, student health and safety, and for an education that ensures that every student who enters high school graduates within four years or they are not considered a graduate for public reporting purposes.

Read Tommy Bice's full presentation

There are no allowances for poverty, disability or any other unexpected occurrence such as major medical issues, death of a parent, divorce or incarceration. The expectation is that all students enter as a kindergartner and graduate on time much like widgets through an assembly line factory. We are the only education entity with such an expectation. So I would say that is a remarkable, if not an unequaled, return on investment. A graduation rate with a 5 percent gain equates to 3,000 more high school graduates in one year.

Economists support the fact that there is a $10,000 dollar differential between the annual earnings of a high school graduate versus a non-graduate. Based on 3,000 new graduates, we have just potentially infused $30 million into Alabama’s economy, which interestingly is $5 million less than our entire budget request increase for all state programs and initiatives outside the Foundation Program.

Why do we need our budget request fulfilled? Our local school systems continue to meet their legal obligation for the 10-mill match for participation in the Foundation Program, yet at the same time they have seen the per-pupil expenditure decrease by some $1,200 per student over the past several years. At the same time, the academic and technical expectations of a successful graduate have been increased.

We are here today not to ask for anything extra but merely to ask for our fair share of the Foundation Program based on the formulas contained within it — funding to maintain and in a few areas expand programs that are yielding sizeable returns on investment for our students, their families and our state.

This column is adapted from State Superintendent of Education Thomas R. Bice’s remarks to the Alabama’s joint House and Senate budget committees on Jan. 14.

By the numbers

• Students attending Alabama public schools: 740,567.

• Increase in student population from previous year: 1,272.

• School systems: 135.

• Public schools: 1,496.

• Amount local districts contribute to public schools: $541 million.

• Number of students who rely on district-funded buses to attend school: 378,709.

• Percent of costs to run school buses covered by state: 80.

• Amount local districts spend to make up the difference: $53 million.

• Number of school buses: 7,609.

• Miles covered daily: 488,136.

• Breakfasts served in Alabama public schools in 2012-2013: 36 million.

• Percent that were free to children of low-income parents: 83.

• Lunches served in Alabama public schools in 2012-2013: 90 million.

• Percent that were free to children of low-income parents: 64.

• Percentage gain of free lunches from 2011-2012 to 2012-2013 school years: 4.

• Students taking Advanced Placement classes: 47,000.

• Schools offering Advance Placement: 97.

• Online learning subjects offered by state’s ACCESS program: 108.

• Students enrolled in ACCESS: 24,141.

• Graduation rate as measured by percent for most recently complete school year: 80.

• Percentage-point gain of graduation rate over previous year: 5.

• Graduation rate projected by year 2020: 90.

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