Friday, October 16, 2015

Craig Ford: What education surplus?

  Some state legislators claim there's a "surplus" in education, and that that money should be used to make up the difference in the general fund budget. Here's why they're wrong:

  What education surplus?

  Stealing from children is wrong. Period. But that's exactly what the Alabama Legislature has done and will probably continue to do.

  Several members of the Alabama Senate and House of Representatives have written and spoken publicly about a "surplus" in education. They have also claimed that if we combine the budgets it will solve all our general fund budget problems. That's why they were so willing to use education money to bail themselves out of the impending budget crisis this year.

  In addition to raising $86 million in new taxes, part of the Republicans' "solution" to this year's budget crisis was a transfer of $80 million out of the education budget.

  Now that might not seem like a lot considering the education budget is about $5.9 billion dollars, but let's look at an example of how these cuts are directly impacting our children and their educators.

  Jeff Davis High School in Montgomery has a soccer team. Soccer is the fastest growing sport in America. The United States Women's National Team just won the World Cup, so soccer is getting more attention and interest than ever before.

  Kids who play soccer get great exercise and receive all the other benefits that come from playing competitive team sports. But the problem for the Jeff Davis soccer team is money.

  The school does not have any soccer goals, which means the two coaches have to pay $1,000 out of their personal money each year to use the facilities at the local YMCA. Each of them gets a $500 stipend for coaching the team, so they are basically coaching the team for free.

  These kids’ coaches shouldn’t have to give up their coaching pay just so the school can have a team. And the kids who want to play shouldn't be denied that chance because the school can't afford a couple of soccer goals that could be bought for as little as $1,500).

  The rest of the expenses for a soccer team are small. The season is in the spring, so the team could use the school's football field to play on. The local parks and recreation department would be willing to line the field, and soccer balls and equipment can be bought very cheap. You can get a soccer ball for $6 dollars at stores like Academy Sports. And ticket proceeds could raise enough to pay the officials.

  But for a lack of $1,500, the soccer team wouldn't exist without these coaches generously giving up their coaching stipends!

  And the sad truth is that stories like this aren't uncommon. The Russellville City Schools Rocketry Team just won an international competition at the Paris Air Show. International! And they did it using a building that didn't even have air conditioning or heating.

  Remember the Jeff Davis High School soccer team and the Russellville City Schools Rocketry Team the next time you hear some state senator or representative tell you we have a surplus in education. Ask that legislator why - if there’s a surplus - parents are still being asked to send rolls of paper towels and boxes of tissue because the schools can’t even afford those!

  Any legislator who tells you education can afford more cuts is either not being honest with you or is incredibly ignorant about what's going on in our public schools.

  Does Alabama have a budget problem? Absolutely! Is the answer to the budget problem taking more money out of education or combining the budgets? Absolutely not!

  About the author: Representative Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.

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