By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
I was very glad to see Gov. Bentley come out this week in support of the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative, more commonly known as the AMSTI program. This program is something that Democrats have long been in support, and I am glad to see Gov. Bentley and other Republicans joining with us Democrats in supporting AMSTI.
It is obvious that politics has become more partisan in recent years, and one area where Democrats and Republicans have significant differences is on public education. This was most clearly seen earlier this year when Republican leaders in Montgomery pushed through the Accountability Act.
But the AMSTI program has proven results that transcend partisan politics.
The AMSTI program began in 1999 under the leadership of Steve Ricks during the Siegelman administration, and has been shown to dramatically improve test scores for students who attend schools that participate in the program.
The program helps students learn math and science by training educators to develop lesson plans and curriculums that help students relate math and science to their daily lives.
Schools that participate in the AMSTI program send their teachers to a two-week long training program during the summer. These teachers learn how to teach math and science with hands-on, activity-based instruction. After completing the training, the participating schools receive all of the materials and equipment they will need to put into action what they learned during the summer. Additionally, the program also provides full-time AMSTI-qualified math and science specialists to serve as mentors for these educators.
The effectiveness of the AMSTI program has been obvious. Students in AMSTI schools have shown higher test scores in every subject, including reading and language.
But the problem is that not every school is getting to participate in the AMSTI program. In fact, only about half of Alabama’s public schools participate in the program. The reason is money.
The AMSTI program is not funded by the local school systems. It is paid for with money from the state’s education budget. Currently, AMSTI receives about $28 million annually. In order to bring the program to all schools, funding would need to increase by $10 million next year, and another $8 million the year after that. Funding would then have to be held at $46 million per year for the next three years before every school could participate at a lower cost.
That is why I am encouraged to see Gov. Bentley say that he wants to put more money into the AMSTI program.
Education is too important to our state and our children’s futures for us not to invest in programs like AMSTI. A strong public education system not only gives our children the best chance at a bright future, it also helps state and business leaders recruit business and industry to Alabama.
Prospective businesses want to know that the workforce is able to perform the jobs they will bring. That means having an educated workforce trained by a quality public school system.
Democrats and Republicans agree on this. Legislators on both sides of the aisle have fought for what they believe will improve our schools. On some of these measures, such as the Accountability Act, we will continue to disagree. But everyone, regardless of their Party, agrees that programs such as AMSTI, pre-K and the Alabama Reading Initiative are critical to improving our schools and giving our children the best chance to be successful in school.
I hope that Gov. Bentley and the Republicans in the Alabama legislature will continue to support these programs and work with Democrats to draft a budget that properly funds programs like AMSTI. Next year will be an election year, but there is no reason why Democrats and Republicans can’t work together to invest in our children.
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.