In the movie, A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson glowered at Tom Crusie and bluntly told him, “You can’t handle the truth.” This scene quickly came to mind as I read the following statement from Rep. Ed Henry of Hartselle in the current special session.
Rep. Henry warned, “The Education Budget will still have an excess of $370,000,000 FY2016 (We only need $225 million) but certain people in key positions would rather raise taxes than use that excess.”
There is no excess in the Special Education Trust Fund.
And as a member of the House Ways & Means Education committee Rep. Henry must know this. Committee chair Rep. Bill Poole certainly knows and has said so many times.
A number of years ago the state established the Foundation program which said to local school systems, if you will raise taxes to a certain level, in return we will fully fund components of the education process that we consider essential to providing a foundation.
However, the state has not upheld its end of the bargain in recent years, leaving local systems on the hook. Ask any rural school superintendent how much the lack of state funding for school buses is costing them.
Then along came the Rolling Reserve Act, set up with the express purpose of never allowing proration to occur. Everyone agrees that proration is a killer to school systems. It happens when the state crafts an education budget based on revenue projections that are too optimistic. As the school year winds down and a shortfall becomes inevitable, superintendents are told they must quickly cut their budgets. The problem is this normally happens deep within a school year and cuts are compressed over just a few months.
So the Rolling Reserve takes an average of revenues over X number of years and says this is all the money that can be allocated in any one year. Say you made $30,000 a year 10 years ago, got a $1,000 increase each year and now make $40,000. So your average revenue was $35,000 a year. Under Rolling Reserve, that’s all you can spend this year, even though more is available.
Some house members, apparently such as Rep. Henry, consider the $5,000 you now have, but cannot spend, to be “surplus.” But your wife reminds you that the roof has been leaking for three years and wonders why your “surplus” can’t be used to fix it.
The Foundation program is hundreds of millions of dollars in arrears in providing local systems what the state is obligated to provide.
So the Rolling Reserve in actuality is “perpetual proration” and Rep. Henry wants to take money that is rightfully supposed to be helping students and do something else with it. (Let the record show that in 2014, Rep. Henry received $15,000 for his re-election campaign from the StudentsFirst group in Sacramento, CA. This is the group begun by former Washington DC chancellor Michelle Rhee and the same one who has 10 lobbyists registered with the Alabama Ethics Commission.)