By Rep. Darrio Melton
We are less than a month out from Election Day, and the campaigns are in full-swing. “Jobs, jobs, jobs” and “stronger schools” are plastered all over campaign ads on the TVs and in the mailboxes.
But more important than campaign ad rhetoric are the records of the leaders who are asking for our votes. Last week, we discussed the failed jobs policies of the Republican supermajority–this week, I want to talk about the damage they have done to our schools.
The biggest blow to our schools under the GOP leadership was the Alabama Accountability Act. This law was passed using Washington-style tactics behind closed doors in the middle of the night. The way it was passed was deceptive and the policies it contained were disastrous.
This law set aside $40 million its first year to give tax credits to families who wanted to move their children from a failing public school to a private school. This year and each year the law remains in effect, it will take $25 million from Alabama schools. The Republican leadership has said they will lift the $25 million cap if they are sent back to Montgomery.
The issue here is that every Alabama school loses funding for a few students to transfer to private schools. Receiving schools are not required to accept students from failing schools and there is no accountability to ensure that the private schools are any better than the public schools. Schools that are already struggling are now losing precious funding for all students so a few privileged children can transfer out to attend a different school.
Because of bad policy like the Accountability Act, our education budget is in shambles and our teachers are being asked to do more with less. Since the Republicans have taken over, our teachers make half a percent less in pay than four years ago. After a 2.5 percent pay cut, the legislature tried to win their favor in an election year with a two percent pay raise–but our teachers aren’t fooled. They are still paying out-of-pocket for supplies for the classrooms and receiving less pay than our surrounding states.
At the end of the day, money doesn’t fix our schools–quality educators are the best way to ensure that our children are getting a first-rate education. But to keep quality teachers in our classrooms, we have to pay them like professionals.
We must make funding education a first priority in the next legislative session–and guarantee that our education dollars are protected.
The Republican supermajority has shown us their plan, and I think Alabama can do better.
We can pay our teachers and provide funding for consumable resources. We can make college more affordable and partner with small businesses to give our high school students career training. We can make sure every child has access to a good education–from quality pre-K to college or career.
We can do better, Alabama. We must vote for an education policy that works and demand better than more of the same.
Representative Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010.