Time to think about education

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Andalusia has a strong foundation of producing top students in Alabama. The Andalusia City School System is one of the top-rated school systems south of the Birmingham Metro Area. The Covington County and Opp School Systems are consistently among the top in the state as well.

But, all that could come to an end.

Without a major rescue, all three systems in Covington County stand to lose valuable teachers and programs.

According to the Andalusia City Schools Superintendent Pete Kelley, in his State of the Schools address to the Andalusia City Council, the Andalusia system alone stands to lose a total of 13 teachers and three support personnel. Among those cuts, the music program at Andalusia Elementary School. Andalusia Middle School could lose its Consumer Science course. Andalusia High School has already lost its JROTC program and Explorations in Technology. It could lose one of its foreign languages and the art program.

Is that the type of school system we want our children to go to?

No. We want our children to have the same opportunities we did. We should want them to have more.

Instead, our children could receive less of an education than we did.

If you are of the train of thought that reading, writing and arithmetic were good enough for you; and it's good enough for your children or grandchildren - you're sadly mistaken.

Education has evolved so much beyond the "three R's." Education today is technology and arts driven. Covington County has evolved beyond the "three R's."

According to the state finance and budget office, the state's education budget is earmarked for approximately $4-billion. That sounds like a lot - but once it starts getting divided up - it's not.

That $4-billion must be divided and shared by the K-12 sector, two-year college sector, and four-year college and university sector.

That $4-billion comes from a variety of taxes that fluctuate based on Alabama's economy.

Sales taxes, corporate and individual income taxes, beer and wine taxes, facility use taxes, utility taxes and insurance taxes. Sounds like a lot of taxation there. It's not. If the economy is having a down year, then those tax revenues will be dramatically decreased.

Local school systems have to provide funding as well, though. According to the State Finance Department, local school systems are required to provided the equivalent of 10 mills of property tax to receive their state funding. That's at a minimum. And, it's not a lot of money.

A mill is only one-tenth of 1 percent. So, if your property was valued at $50,000, then you are only paying $50 per year towards your child's education. Isn't your child or grandchild's education worth more than $50?

Yes, we know that we all pay a lot of taxes, and if the taxes were divvied up properly, then there would be enough money to fund education. We also know that without real tax reform, that's not going to happen and our children will continue to catch the wet end of the mop.

We also can't say, "Well, at least there's always Mississippi." To catch up to equal the level of education funding in Mississippi, Alabama would need at least $836 million more dollars. And their governor just signed another education funding bill.

We need a solution. And that solution in all likelihood will be an increase in local funding. But, how do we increase local funding? It's going to take a concerted effort on everyone's part to find that solution. It's probably going to take a local tax. How will that tax be levied, and will you support it? That's a question that still has to be answered, but we need to work swiftly and together. Time is running out.