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Education funding is an issue, but not the only way to ensure our children succeed

By Rep. Darrio Melton

Last week, a year-long study showed what many of us have been saying all along–Alabama’s schools are tremendously underfunded. Not only do we not set aside enough money to educate our children adequately, the funding disparity among school districts is bigger than anyone might have guessed.

The study showed that Alabama’s most wealthy school districts spent nearly double per student–around $6,000 more per student–than schools in our poorest districts.  The scary part? That difference is only increasing more each year.

It comes as no surprise that schools with better funding are able to produce students who, on average, perform better in the classroom. Better technology, new textbooks and more resources nearly always amount to better educational opportunities.

The Republican Supermajority has tried to fix this problem by pulling state funds from our poorest schools to give a few kids a golden ticket to private school. They are perfectly content giving a few children a hand up to a better life and leaving the rest in an underfunded school worse off than they were before.

We cannot continue to use tax dollars from hard working Alabama families to send a select few children to private school, while leaving the rest to fend for themselves in schools with dwindling funds.

We must act to find a way to adequately fund all of Alabama’s schools so that our children from Camden and Marion have the same opportunity to get an education as those in Mountain Brook and Madison.

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As long as we are educating our children disproportionately, we can only expect to see disproportionate opportunities in our job markets, in our earning potentials and in our poverty rates.

The policy battle to fix these problems is going to be an uphill climb.  While school funding is a huge issue that we must address, money isn’t everything to our children. As parents, we must take on a more active role in our children’s lives to ensure they understand the importance of education.  Talk to them. Tell them stories. Ask them questions.

I remember hearing a story that inspired me, both as a parent and as a policymaker.  A young, divorced mother with two children found herself struggling to inspire her sons to do well in school. They were continually bringing home poor grades and she knew she must do something.  As a child, the mother had been in and out of foster homes and had never learned to read, so she was unsure how to help her children.

The mother made some house rules–the boys had to read two library books each week and hand in a report on what they read. They were also only allowed to watch two TV programs each week, and only after their homework was done.  Each week, they would hand in their reports and she would look at them as if she were carefully reading them over, then give each report a check mark for a job well done.

She always told the boys that they were just as good as anyone else and they could do anything they set their minds to accomplish. One of her sons went from the bottom of his fifth grade class to the top of his sixth grade class–he went on to earn a scholarship to Yale University and became a doctor. He was named head of pediatric neurology at 33 years old, one of the youngest individuals and only Black man to ever hold this position.  Today, Dr. Ben Carson is able to give back to young children, and is even being considered as a potential Presidential nominee from the Republican Party.

This story goes to show us that as parents, sometimes our hands are tied when it comes to the school’s funding or the policies handed down from Montgomery.  I want to assure you as a parent and as your Representative, I’m doing everything in my power to fix it.  But in the mean time, don’t underestimate the important role you play in your child’s life.  Teach them to love to learn and together we will grow the next generation of leaders.

Representative Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010.

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