Schools face proration without plan

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 13, 2003

For Alabama State Education Superintendent Ed Richardson, the argument for Gov. Bob Riley’s tax reform package comes down to a numbers game.

The package of tax-related measures, which is expected to generate some $1.2 billion in new revenues, will be presented to Alabama voters Sept. 9 as an all-or-nothing proposal entitled simply Amendment One.

Richardson painted two starkly different pictures for a somber audience gathered at the St. James Hotel for the Selma Kiwanis Club’s weekly luncheon Tuesday.

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If Amendment One fails to pass, Richardson told his audience, Alabama schools face budget proration of 6.8 percent to 7.5 percent for the current 2003-04 school year.

That means Dallas County Schools will have to cut its budget $1.8 million. Selma City Schools will have to trim its budget by $1.6 million.

If Amendment One passes, however, the picture could be far different, Richardson added. County schools would receive an additional $4.8 million; city schools, an additional $4.4 million.

If the measure fails to pass, Richardson estimated that 3,000 teachers and 2,000 support personnel statewide would have to be laid off.

Richardson said that there is an alternative to increasing spending for education &045;&045; and that is to increase spending for prisons. He noted that while the state spends, on average, less than $5,000 per student each year, it spends more than

$42,000 for each juvenile in the Mt. Meigs detention facility.

Without additional revenues, Alabama faces a $675 million deficit in the upcoming fiscal year. The governor’s package is projected to raise nearly twice that amount. Richardson said the difference is needed to make up for years of inadequate funding.

He estimated that currently one out of every seven children in Alabama schools is unable to perform at his or her grade level. &uot;That’s a disgrace,&uot; Richardson said. &uot;I’m embarrassed. It should not have been allowed to happen.&uot;

He added that the plan goes beyond just the basics to include such things as a scholarship plan for every Alabama family. To qualify, students need only maintain a &uot;B&uot; average and an ACT score of 20 or better.