By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
Recently, I wrote an article about the eleven statewide amendments that will be on our ballots next week. Today, I want to talk a little more about Amendment 4, which would remove some of the racist language that is currently in our state constitution.
If you only read the description of Amendment 4 that will appear on our ballots, it appears like the amendment is a good thing. The ballot language states that this amendment will remove the parts of our constitution that require schools to be segregated and requires a poll tax.
That our constitution still includes language that segregates our schools and requires a poll tax is both shameful and embarrassing. Removing that language from our state constitution is, without a doubt, the right thing to do.
But the problem is that if you read the actual amendment, you will see that this amendment does more than just remove racist language from the constitution.
Page 2 of the amendment states that, “nothing in this Constitution shall be construed as creating or recognizing any right to education or training at public expense….”
And that is the language in this amendment that has created the controversy.
Opponents of this amendment have argued, as I did in my last article, that we should not have to give up our right to an education just to do what is morally right and remove some of the racist language from our state constitution.
Additionally, opponents have argued that by removing the guarantee of a public education, this amendment would give legislators the ability to reallocate money that has been set aside for our children’s education and give it to other government programs or to begin shutting down public schools and instead giving students vouchers to attend more expensive private schools. The problem with vouchers is that the voucher usually is not enough to offset the expense of the private school, so parents would end up having to pay more out of their own pockets for their children’s education.
Opponents have also made the argument that, while we need to remove the racist language from our constitution, federal law and court decisions have already made poll taxes and segregated schools illegal. That doesn’t change the fact that we need to remove this language from our constitution, but it does mean that the costs of Amendment 4 outweigh the benefits.
On the other side of the debate, supporters of Amendment 4 have argued that it is necessary to remove the guarantee to a public education because if the government is committed to providing a public education to all children in Alabama, then the courts could force the legislature to raise taxes.
But this argument does not hold up.
First, the courts do not control our tax policies or state revenues and therefore cannot force the legislature to raise taxes.
Secondly, a constitutional guarantee to a public education does not mean the state is obligated to spend a certain amount of money on education. So no court could ever use this guarantee to require the state to spend more money on public education.
There is no excuse for the terrible, racist language in our state constitution. We should have removed that language a long time ago. But the problem with Amendment 4 is that this amendment comes with strings attached. If this amendment passes, we won’t just be removing racist language from our constitution; we will also be removing our children’s right to a public education.
Next Tuesday, I hope you will vote No on Amendment 4.
Representative Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden. He has served in the Alabama House of Representatives since 2000. In 2010, Representative Ford was elected House Minority Leader by the House Democratic Caucus. He was re-elected Minority Leader in 2012.