Straight Talk About School Funding

In the waning days of this legislative session various elected officials and media mouthpieces have talked about combining the state’s general fund budget and education trust fund since they claim their is enough “surplus” in ETF to rescue the general fund.  Wonder how many school principals they can get to agree with them?

Here is an excellent review of the situation by Carol Gundlach, policy analyst for Alabama ARISE.

Taking more money from education is not the answer for Alabama

The Legislature recently placed a cap (called the Rolling Reserve) on the amount of education revenue that can be appropriated each year. As a result, the ETF has a surplus that cannot be spent on everyday school operations under current law.

If this is the case, some argue, what would be wrong with using that “excess” education money to plug the GF hole? Several proposals this year seek to do just that, by “un-earmarking” taxes dedicated to education, by combining the ETF and GF budgets, or by transferring a portion of the money above the Rolling Reserve cap to the GF.

But these proposals don’t account for one big fact: Alabama’s education funding is still nowhere close to recovering from massive cuts during and after the Great Recession. The 2016 ETF budget will give K-12 schools only 92 percent as much money as they received in 2008, despite higher costs and population growth.

Alabama’s recent education cuts are among the country’s worst. The state’s per-pupil K-12 spending in 2015 was 18 percent lower than in 2008, the second worst decline in the nation, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). Alabama’s per-student higher education cuts from 2008 to 2016 are also the nation’s second worst, the CBPP found.

The lingering cuts point to a need for Alabama to revise the Rolling Reserve Act to make more ETF revenues available to schools. The Legislature still could pass a bill sponsored by Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, to allow a share of the excess ETF money to be spent for critical school construction and repair needs. Even in the face of the GF’s funding woes, taking desperately needed funding from our schools is not the right way to build a stronger Alabama.

Leave a reply