What exactly are 16th Section lands?

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 15, 2002

In 1785, the U.S. Congress committed the 16th section of every township for the maintenance and promotion of public schools. This commitment continued as a stipulation when Alabama was admitted to statehood in 1819. Over the next several years much of this property was sold and the proceeds deposited in the state bank. The state bank failed in 1843 and the funds were lost forever. In addition, several of the 16th sections were located under water or on restricted federal lands and as a result a county's 16th section lands were often taken from another county. For instance, Covington County's 16th section lands are found in Tuscaloosa County.

The State Commissioner of Conservation and National Resources is responsible for the management of the 16th section lands Until 1995, state law did not allow the school boards to receive additional funds from the income or interest of 16th section lands. Any 16th section funds distributed were, in turn, deducted from state appropriations so no system has received an increase in funding from 16th section lands. During the 2002 legislative session, legislators approved a bill to reduce the likelihood of proration anti to ensure that county systems would receive their fair of the 16th section land funds

This topic is hard to explain, and I think it is obvious that much confusion exists over these funds. As a result of a recent court case; the state transferred approximately $24.7 million to the Covington County court. Thin money is invested in Covington County in an interest-bearing account. The Covington County Board of Education is share is approximately $8.2 million Pending a report by the State Examiners of Public Accounts, the Covington County judge will determine the distribution to the local boards of education.

A new twist has occurred with the formation of city school systems since the law addresses only County school systems. It will take further court action to decide on this issue and on the escrowed amount.

It is certainly a relief that school systems will finally receive their fair share especially as state funding is so uncertain.

Ed Richardson is the State Superintendent of Education