Senate needs to pass education budget now
The state Senate is undermining public education in Alabama while senators continue to delay passing a school budget.
Judging from the procedural knots that have left the Senate hog-tied this session — a session with only five legislative days remaining — many we elected are in no rush to approve an education budget. The fiscal year does not begin until October, so what's the rush?
The rush, explained state Superintendent Joe Morton in an editorial meeting with THE DAILY on Monday, is that school systems cannot begin planning for next year until a budget is in place.
The main reasons the Senate has to drop the political games long enough to pass an education budget?
Teachers. State law requires boards of education to notify any non-tenured teachers they intend to lay off by the preceding year's last day of school. In Decatur, which has about 100 nontenured teachers, that means May 26. In the absence of a state budget, schools must assume the worst, an assumption that has an odd way of being accurate in this state's financial affairs. What to do? Only one choice. Schools must layoff teachers, and lots of them.
Butler County schools, struggling with finances too rocky for risk, began layoffs last week.
What happens to laid-off teachers? The best ones go elsewhere. Some go to Mississippi, some to Tennessee. Some go to Georgia, which will not just promise them a job, but give them a hefty raise.
Even those optimistic enough to ignore the pink slip cannot prepare for the coming year. That means no lesson plans. It also means no summer training for the Alabama Reading Initiative, training that our best teachers attend enthusiastically, many on their own time.
Construction. Decatur City Schools are in the process of planning construction that for years sat on the backburner as city schools waited for resolution of a desegregation case. The case is over and many schools are ready for long-overdue renovation or replacement.
Construction, though, is expensive. With no way to know what state funds are coming, many school districts will delay construction projects. In Decatur, that could mean another school year where students and teachers have to occupy buildings that barely meet building codes.
Textbooks. The platform of our children's education is the textbook. Teachers need to know what textbooks they will have in order to prepare lesson plans. It is an increasingly unsteady platform in school districts that struggle with hopelessly outdated textbooks.
School systems cannot order textbooks until they know how much state money they are able to spend. Book publishers cannot fill textbook orders for the 2005-2006 school year if they receive those orders in midsummer.
In states with well-funded education programs, legislative efficiency is not critical. In Alabama, however, every dollar needs to count. That means keeping our best teachers. It means facilitating those teachers' efforts to prepare for the coming school year. It means getting the best and most current textbooks we can afford.
It means, senators, passing an education budget and passing it now instead of in a later special session.