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WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 16, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Don't use education money on General Fund programs

Alabama should not use education dollars to fund the General Fund even though the state needs cash.

Legislators continue to cobble together a General Fund budget by delaying payments, tapping into the rainy day fund and utilizing accounting tricks and other temporary measures. Yet the budget has a recurring shortfall of $200 million to $300 million, and will continue to operate in crisis mode until lawmakers find a revenue stream to fill that gap.

To use $70 million in education funds to pay for General Fund programs, as proposed by Gov. Bob Riley, will only perpetuate the problem rather than fix it.

Gov. Riley has proposed diverting more than $70 million in education dollars to programs previously considered General Fund expenses, such as $23 million for the Children's Health Insurance Program, nearly $9 million for the Department of Public Health and more than $18 million for the Department of Mental Health.

Taking money from the state's classrooms makes no sense. Alabama already ranks 47th in state spending per pupil. If the state continues to underpay its teachers and, in effect, to declare students second-class citizens, quality educators will increasingly look elsewhere for better-paying jobs and students will continue to underachieve in the classroom and later in life.

Alabama Education Association lobbyist Paul Hubbert obviously has an agenda to promote, but his argument is no less sound because of his bias.

"Once it is raided, it is gone," Mr. Hubbert said of the Education Trust Fund.

Legislators need to find a long-term solution to the recurring budget shortfall now. And the best way to do it is not through diversion of education funds, but through additional revenue streams.

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