By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
Budgets are about priorities. Whether it’s your personal budget or the state’s budgets, we find a way to pay for the things that are most important. What we have learned this year is that a pay raise for our educators and retirees is not important to the leadership in the Alabama legislature.
Just compare the budget proposed by Gov. Bentley with the budgets that are being considered in the state House and Senate. Gov. Bentley found a way to not only provide educators with a 2 percent pay increase but also fully fund health insurance for educators and retirees. The Senators, on the other hand, chose a conditional one percent bonus, while in the House we are stripping the pay raise out entirely and providing a little additional funding for health insurance.
The leadership in the state legislature says we do not have the money for a raise. But the governor found a way to pay for it. And even if he hadn’t, it’s just simply not true to say we don’t have the money. The truth is that we are choosing to spend the money on other things.
For example, the House version of the education budget would spend over $900,000 for “private schools,” specifically at Lyman Ward and Talladega College. I have no problem with private schools, but I believe they need to be privately funded. Our public money should be used for public purposes.
Republican leaders also chose to spend $1.1 million out of the education budget for the Department of Rehabilitation Services. We should be funding Rehabilitation Services, but not out of the education budget. This program should be funded by the General Fund budget that funds non-educational needs. We are also spending $430,000 dollars out of the education budget for the State Law Enforcement Agency. Again, this should be funded by the General Fund budget, and not the Education budget.
We are also spending another $2.25 million on an unnecessary liability insurance program for educators. Educators already have liability coverage through the private sector and, in most cases, also have coverage through their local school boards. Why are we continuing to waste the taxpayers’ money on a government-run insurance program when educators were already receiving coverage?
Another unnecessary expenditure is the $1 million we are spending on a “Neurological Research Project.” This project is a study of the effects of cannabidiol, which is a form of medical marijuana. Because state leaders didn’t want to be on the record voting to legalize marijuana, they instead chose to fund a research study. But that study is being paid for with our tax dollars.
So state leaders have decided they can find the money to study “weed,” but they can’t find the money to pay for basic classroom supplies like paper towels.
This just shows what our state leaders’ priorities are. Over the past four years, we have asked our educators to do more for less money and with fewer resources. The Republican Supermajority in Montgomery cut educators pay by 2.5 percent, and eliminated 6,000 education jobs, including more than 2,500 teachers. This has led to larger class sizes and fewer young people being recruited into the profession.
When “Ice-mageddon” struck earlier this year, thousands of educators stayed overnight in their schools to take care of our children who were stuck in school and could not safely leave. These teachers and support personnel sacrificed time with their families to make sure our children were safe.
We trust our educators with our most precious gifts: our children. But when it comes to giving these same educators a basic cost-of-living pay increase legislative leaders somehow can’t find the money? That’s nonsense!
Budgeting is all about priorities. If it’s important to you, you find a way to pay for it. State leaders could give our educators a pay raise if they wanted to. They simply have chosen not to. Shame on them!
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.