The $40 million dollar question
By Dr. Gregory T. Graves, AEA Associate Executive Secretary
Forty million dollars is a large sum of money. In fact, out of 134 school systems, only 28 received that much in state funding through the Foundation Program for this fiscal year. Gadsden City, with an ADM of 5,486 students, received $29.4 million in Foundation funding. Auburn City, with 7,367, received $38.3 million. The reason I’m spotlighting $40 million is because that is how much has been taken from the Education Trust Fund this year under the most Orwellian-named piece of legislation in Alabama history, the “Alabama Accountability Act,” which we know as “Vouchercare.” The State of Alabama has set aside $40,000,000 of your taxpayer dollars to educate 52 students.
That’s not a typo. It’s not a misprint. It’s not an exaggeration. Fifty-two kids are going to private school in Alabama today using public funds that are equal to more than what 106 entire school systems received in Foundation funding.
This is why they rushed Vouchercare through in a shady, underhanded way. Some of the legislators who voted for Vouchercare are so ashamed of their actions that they are now trying to amend the Open Meetings Act, which has been gutted by the Alabama Supreme Court so that they can uphold the way it was passed. While I applaud their current efforts, and hope they are successful, that does not help the public school parents who have to buy paper towels and hand sanitizer which could have been bought with that $40 million.
We told everybody who would listen that this bill was a fraud. This is simply the first beachhead that the privatizers of public education have achieved in Alabama. The legislative backers of Vouchercare see billions of dollars they can funnel to their corporate allies, who then fund their campaigns (and, possibly, their legal defense funds). At $769,000+ per student, those children should have an incomparable education, but the money isn’t really about helping them.
This money is corporate welfare in that $25,000,000 of it allows corporations and the wealthy to get a tax credit for donating to “scholarship granting organizations.” Not only do people like Bob Riley get a cut of that money for “administrative costs,” the donors get a dollar for dollar cut off their taxes. Instead of paying taxes to support public education, they give a donation to a buddy, who takes a cut, to send kids to private schools.
Part of the reason for Vouchercare was to get the propaganda term “failing school” into the everyday vocabulary. The proponents of this bill want people to use the term because they want all public schools to fail. They do not believe in public education and the equality of opportunity it brings. They want to bring the entire system down so that only the already-wealthy and well-to-do have an education. We will not let that happen.
While we are fighting for a 6 percent raise for you, they are offering a piddling 2 percent. I press upon any AEA member who is told that there is not enough money for a 6 percent pay increase, to ask their legislator if they voted to give $40 million dollars to privately educate 52 students. You all remember how this bunch of legislators actually cut your pay, for the first time since the Great Depression, and how the 2 percent increase last year didn’t even make up for the cut, much less give you a raise. Another 2 percent, after the 2.5 percent cut and inflation, would still leave you with less buying power than when the supermajority took office in 2010.
We’re also fighting to try and get classroom supply funds back to their pre-2010 levels. The $40,000,000 in corporate and private school subsidies for 52 kids would go a long way toward filling that gap.
The Good Book says you reap what you sow. Four years ago, we sowed the seeds of disaster by resting on our laurels, confident that we could vote for candidates who made us feel better on one or two social issues and that “Paul and Joe will fix it” when it came time to talk about salaries and working conditions. Everybody in education reaped the whirlwind with which we’ve dealt for four years. As candidates start qualifying to run in 2014, I beg you to remember the lessons of 2010.
We can’t be complacent. We can’t relax. We can’t duck our heads in the sand. It is up to every one of you reading this to make sure we support the strong, pro-public education candidates that are currently running for legislative office. Party affiliation is irrelevant. If a Republican supports public education and public educators, and is willing to stand up to the party bosses here in Montgomery to do so, we will gladly support him or her. It is up to us to prevent another disaster like Vouchercare from happening, and that work starts right now and must continue until we elect new leaders who value education over party lines.
As always, together we stand.
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