Now the hard part

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 25, 2002

It's taken two years and some details remain to be determined,

but the Alabama Department of Education has actually been doing the easy part of its effort to improve public education.

Determining what needs to be done to improve our schools, how much that would cost and how the expenditures should be divided among school systems is primarily a

matter of plowing through a lot of test scores, facility assessments and financial data and then crunching some numbers. That's time consuming, but a relatively

straight-forward task once all of the data is collected and a few parameters established.

The hard part is convincing legislators, governors, local elected officials and the public to come up with the additional $1.6 billion that the department estimates it will take to make sure all our schools are providing an adequate education.

The department made a start on this task last week when state school Superintendent Ed Richardson released preliminary figures for how much money each of the state's 128 school systems would receive if the plan gains legislative approval. The

superintendents and local school board members who met with Richardson can put the data to good use when somebody asks what's in the plan for our community.

But Richardson was preaching to the choir. Superintendents and school board members know the problems they face, and most of them have at least some idea of

what needs to be done to improve their own systems.

The people who need to be sold on the plan are legislators, the governor -- whomever that may be after the November election -- and most of all the public, without whose support the plan will not get serious consideration by politicians.

Unfortunately, the public has been sold a bill of goods for many years by special interests that reap short-term benefits from low taxes. That makes convincing a

majority to support the needed tax increases a daunting task. And without public pressure, the politicians will kowtow to the special interests that prefer the status quo.

Or they will come up with gimmicks to create the illusion they are offering solutions.

Richardson and other educational officials will have to work hard and long to overcome this resistence. All of us who want a better Alabama should support them in their effort.

As Homewood school Superintendent Jodi Newton puts it:

"It is high time that the people of Alabama value education and give the children of this state what they deserve."

Birmingham Post-Herald

July 25, 2002