By Lee Hedgepeth
Alabama Political Reporter
TALLAPOOSA COUNTY – Superintendent Joe Windle of the Tallapoosa County School System has revealed that recent funding cuts due to the Alabama Accountability Act have led the school board to cut all of its library aide positions countywide, about four at each individual school.
“At the beginning of last school year,” Superintendent Windle explained, “We lost the funding for all library aides across the State of Alabama. That was due to the funding of scholarships under the Alabama Accountability Act for students to attend private schools. That was a $40 million cost to education funding. Our share of that cost as a system was $268,000. That’s what it cost us.”
Although there was no ETF fiscal note attached to the bill that became the Alabama Accountability Act, there was a piece of legislation purportedly aimed at aiding students in school districts labeled “failing.” It was well known that there would be some, then-unknown, impact on the ETF budget due to the scholarship program.
That particular provision of the law allows so-called Scholarship Granting Organizations to raise money through tax credits given to donating individual and corporate entities up to $25 million. Depending on participation in the program, however, costs were estimated by House education budget committee to be between $50 and $60 million this fiscal year.
Efforts were made during this year’s regular legislative session to pass a bill removing the cap on corporate tax credit donations to SGOs, though they stalled due to the election year atmosphere – rallying some bipartisan opposition.
Other local school districts have resorted to spending reductions similar to those outlined in Tallapoosa County this week, as well. Last year, all library aides across the State were cut due to the Accountability Act’s fund siphoning, according to Superintendent Windle, though his district was able to hold on one extra year.
“Most systems eliminated library aides last year,” he said. “We did not.”
Most of the districts labeled as failing, according to the law’s formula, as State Superintendent Tommy Bice has pointed out, are middle schools, which have been the first stop for cuts in spending and investment during times of recession. And though Superintendent Bice has focused on attaining resources for middle schools as a priority, K-12 in Alabama has seen the greatest cuts in the nation since the 2008 recession, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The law is also undergoing legal scrutiny, will several lawsuits challenging the legislation pending, including a Montgomery County Circuit Court decision striking down the law on several grounds, both procedural and meritorious.
Despite any legal changes, Windle says the bottom line is that with State money being limited due to the AAA, there is little room for fiscal wiggle room.
“If we don’t receive funding from the State for positions in schools, we cannot afford at this point in time to pay that out of local money.”