Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Darrio Melton: Alabama's education budget must be divided equitably

  Parents always emphasize the importance of investing time and money in a quality education. They teach that you can lose money and material items, but you can never lose your education.

  That's why families put their children's education at the top of their family budget every year,  making sure they have the tools to succeed and the resources to pursue higher education.

  As a legislator, I try to do the same for the children of Alabama. It's our job to manage the state's money as tight as the budget may be, and to ensure that our children have a shot at success.

  So the question always boils down to "what is a child's education worth?" How much should we budget for books and teachers, and increasing technology in the classrooms?

  It's never an easy debate and there are always differences in priorities among members of the legislature. But one thing shouldn't be up for debate: educating a child who lives in Greene or Perry or Bullock County is just as important as educating a child in Jefferson or Montgomery County.

  Because of the way our education budget works, the state provides funds that are supplemented by the local school district. This is why even if state funds are appropriated evenly, children in affluent communities have more education dollars spent in their schools than communities who can't afford to provide as much revenue.  It creates an inherent disparity in our school systems. But a solution would require revisiting our entire funding mechanism for education, and that won't happen any time soon.

  What we can do, however, is guarantee that all schools have the resources to succeed before providing millions to develop new schools or establish charter schools.

  This year, $9.6 million was spread among 48 school systems, with schools getting approximately $34,000 for each new teacher they hired. However one school outside of Montgomery, Pike Road, received a whopping $2.3 million with $85,000 per new staff member.

  As legislators, we are called to look out for our districts but also to represent the interests of the entire state.

  I don't understand how we're representing all the teachers who haven't received a raise since the Republicans took office by allocating 250% more money for teachers in one school district than in the other 48.

  I don't understand how we're representing all the students who are using worn-out text books and being asked to buy paper towels for the classroom when we're giving one school district $2.3 million and asking the other 48 districts to split $9.6 million.

  Education is certainly something worth investing in heavily, but any good investor knows to diversify the portfolio. It's time to invest in all of Alabama's teachers and every single Alabama student.

  About the author: Representative Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010 and currently serves as Chair of the House Democratic Caucus: http://www.darriomelton.com.

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