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The Devil in the Details

By Larry Lee
Education Matters

The K 12 education budget has a notation for “current units” that is intended to be divided among faster growing systems to help them deal with growth.  In the past, these monies have been prorated equally.  However, when the budget was written in last Spring’s regular session, someone decided that some systems are more equal than others.

So one sentence was inserted directing how the designated $9,609,561 should be spent, something no one can remember having been done before.

Here is the budget language: “The above appropriation includes funds for start-up public charter schools and start-up public school systems in the first year of operation which shall be funded at the full amount of the average Foundation Program cost per unit.”

Given this budget was a 72 page document it is easy to understand how things can get overlooked in the scurry to vote.  So the impact of this one sentence only came to light a few days ago when info from the state department of education detailed how much each of 48 systems would receive.

Roanoke City only got $1,358.  Sixteen systems got less than $50,000 each.  But the brand new Pike Road system in Montgomery County got an eye-opening $2,372,215 because they were the only system to benefit from the language put in the bill.

(The Pike Road allotment of $2,372,215 was deducted from the $9,609,561 with the remaining $7,237,346 then divided among the other 47 systems.  This, of course, means all other systems got less since they were dividing a smaller pie.)

Reaction from school superintendents and financial officers swiftly followed when they realized their systems were shortchanged.  John Wilson, CFO of Baldwin County, said the additional money to Pike Road pulls from the state foundation program that has been underfunded since 2008.

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“These type appropriations hurt other systems and they’re coming out of a line item that was never meant to be used for that purpose,” explained Wilson.

Adam Bourne, one of five candidates running for the state school board from District 1 (Mobile, Baldwin, Escambia, Conecuh, Covington, Crenshaw and Butler counties) against incumbent Matthew Brown, put out a news release stating in part, “It is really sad when Montgomery politicians are taking money from south Alabama school children and our State Board of Education member doesn’t say a word about it.”
Bourne, a member of the Chickasaw City Council, added, “This really hits home with me because I was very involved in starting the new Chickasaw school system several years ago and no one ever gave us a sweet deal like this.”

The Chickasaw system has 1,004 students and received $135 per student whereas the Pike Road system has 1,105 students and got $2,146 per student.  While only 15.4 percent of Pike Road students get free-reduced lunches, 74.6 percent of Chickasaw students do.  Census info shows median household income in Pike Road is $93,636 and only $30,363 in Chickasaw.

Bourne also pointed out that a total of seven school systems with 42,397 students in District 1 were affected by the action.

Incumbent state board member Matthew Brown soon followed with an email and Facebook post.
Incredibly, he rushed to defend the legislature-instead of defending students and the school systems that were denied funding–and chastised Bourne for not doing the same.

“It is imperative that our State Board of Education representative maintain a strong working relationship with our legislators so we can work together in achieving positive reforms for our students,” Brown wrote.
However, nowhere does Brown mention that on Nov. 19 Senators Trip Pittman, Rusty Glover, Bill Hightower and Greg Albritton, along with Rep. Joe Faust, hosted a fund-raiser for him in Fairhope.  Is this his definition of a “strong, working relationship?”

It should be noted that when the budget in question was written, Senator Trip Pittman was chair of the Senate committee that wrote it and Senator Rusty Glover was vice-chair.

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Brown also said, “Piling criticisms on our senators and representatives for their hard work will not help us accomplish our goals moving forward.”  Brown needs to spend a day as an aide in a high poverty classroom to get another perspective on hard work.

The last time I checked the ONLY duty of the state board of education is to work to improve learning and working conditions for public school students and teachers and administrators.  It is certainly not to defend the actions of those who play games with school funding.

Apparently some folks have not figured this out.

Larry Lee lead the study, Lessons Learned from Rural Schools, and is a longtime advocate for public education. [email protected] Read his blog: larryeducation.com

Larry Lee
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