By Minority Leader, Representative Craig Ford
Expanding dual enrollment has been a goal for both Democrats and Republicans in the state legislature this year. Last week, we came one step closer to achieving that goal when the members of the State House of Representatives voted unanimously to pass a bill that will increase funding for dual enrollment by $10 million.
This is a big step in the right direction for the state of Alabama. Dual enrollment has been shown to increase the likelihood of a student completing their degree or certificate program. Dual enrollment also gives kids who otherwise might not ever be able to afford a college education a chance to get that education, with the help of additional scholarship money.
Democrats have always supported dual enrollment: we voted to increase funding for the program. But even though this bill does a lot of good, it also has some problems.
The first problem is this bill takes money away from other education needs. In order to pay for the increase in funding for dual enrollment, this particular bill creates as much as $5 million in tax credits that come out of the state’s education budget.
Instead of cutting the education budget by another $5 million, we could have just as easily have put $5 million in the dual enrollment program by eliminating the newly created liability insurance program for educators.
The taxpayer-funded liability insurance program is unnecessary for two reasons. First, educators already have liability coverage through their local school boards, their professional associations or, in many cases, both. They do not need a third source of liability coverage that is paid for with our tax dollars.
Second, this new program is unnecessary because the House has already passed a bill that provides statutory immunity for educators and state employees while performing their jobs, which was sponsored by Rep. Mike Jones, a Republican from Andalusia. With this immunity provision, there is no longer a need for additional liability coverage.
Aside from the fact that this dual enrollment bill unnecessarily takes $5 million out of our schools that could have easily been avoided, it also creates a new precedent that could cause problems in the future.
This bill allows companies and individuals to receive tax credits worth up to 50 percent of their donations to community college dual enrollment programs. As a result, these donors are basically getting to decide where their tax dollars go.
There is a reason that our tax dollars go into a collective pot and are then distributed throughout the state. If we could all choose where our tax dollars go then many important services would not get funded.
For example, would schools in small, rural counties be able to survive if no one but the people who lived there paid taxes for that school system? Would some smaller counties be able to have good, paved roads if they didn’t receive tax dollars paid by people in other counties? Good roads and quality schools grow our economy and benefit us all. But even if we choose to send our money to other counties how many of us could afford to send some to all 67 counties in Alabama? That is why our tax dollars go into one big pot and then get distributed where they are needed.
We should all have a say in how our tax dollars are spent; that is why we have elections and a government that works within a system of checks and balances. It is dangerous to set a precedent allowing a select group of people the ability to choose where their tax money goes.
This dual enrollment bill could have been better. We could have avoided the new cuts to our schools and the bad precedents that this bill has created. But, at the end of the day, Democrats and Republicans came together and found a way to put $10 million more dollars into our dual enrollment program. More money in our dual enrollment program means giving kids who otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to go to college or get a technical certificate a chance to get that education, which is a very good thing.
Despite its flaws, this bill is still a victory for our children. I hope that our state will have more of these victories throughout this legislative session.
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.