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Opinion | Cities are only as strong as their local schools

In the military we have a saying: A platoon is only as strong as its weakest soldier. That concept applies to a lot of things in life, and especially to how we as a society treat our public schools.

Public schools are the backbone of any city or town. They train our future workers. They are usually one of, if not the, biggest employers in a county or city. They are one of the first things potential employers look at when deciding whether to build or expand a plant or factory in a community. And for those who go on to college, local schools are the pipeline that gets them there.

Schools also play an important role in our quality of life. From Friday night football games to band competitions and everything in-between, local schools play an important role in both children and adults’ social lives, and add to our sense of community.

Local schools are critical to any city’s success, and for that reason funding for local schools should always be protected. Here in Gadsden, we are fortunate to have a top-notch superintendent and hundreds of outstanding teachers and support staff running our local schools and educating our children. They work hard and do a great job in a profession that is often thankless and underpaid.

In fact, a recent study comparing teacher salaries to test scores on college entrance exams proves that when it comes to education and college preparation, you get what you pay for.

In states where teachers are paid the most, students average a 25.6 out of 36 on the ACT exam. In those states, teachers earned an average of $77,455 a year. But in Alabama, where the average teacher salary is $50,810 a year, the average ACT score was only 19 out of 36.

Teacher salaries aren’t the only reason for the differences in those test scores, of course, but it does a play role for two reasons.

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First, Alabama loses teachers every year to neighboring states because those states pay better. This has created a teacher shortage in Alabama, which means larger class sizes and, therefore, less one-on-one time for students with their teachers. It also has led to some of our best and brightest teachers leaving the state.

Second, teachers are no different from everybody else. We all work hard everyday, but it’s hard to stay motivated if you know you aren’t being paid what you are worth.

How we pay our teachers and fund our schools is directly related to our children’s educational success. And that is just one more reason why no city or county should ever consider cutting funding for local education.

In education, you get what you pay for. So if a city cuts its education funding, then it will surely see a drop off in the quality of its local schools.

That’s why well-funded school systems in Mountain Brook, Huntsville and Auburn continue to lead the state year after year while schools in cities and counties that can’t or don’t adequately fund education almost always struggle to meet standards and rise above the bottom rankings.

It is crucial that we properly fund our schools at every level of government. We have far too much at stake, whether it’s our children’s future, our ability to recruit or keep jobs in our area, or just improving our local quality of life.

It’s true that you can’t solve problems simply by throwing money at them. But you also can’t solve problems or expect better results if you take money away.

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Our cities are only as strong as our local school system, and we can only get out of our local schools what we are willing to put in. Investing in local schools is an investment in a city’s future – both in terms of our children’s education and our ability to recruit jobs and grow our community. Cutting funding for education should simply never be an option.

Craig Ford is the owner of Ford Insurance and the Gadsden Messenger. He represented Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives for 18 years.

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