Just about average is not good

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 6, 2008

The issue: Alabama&8217;s government recently earned a C-plus in the Pew Center on the States.

Our position: If we settle for mediocre, we will never reach our potential.

Some breathed a sigh of relief and even smiled recently when the Pew Center&8217;s recent study rated Alabama&8217;s government just a bit above average.

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That&8217;s something, we suppose, given that the state seems mired near the bottom of nearly every list conceivable. Some people have laughed and said, &8220;Thank God for Mississippi, or we&8217;d be at the very bottom.&8221;

It&8217;s no joking matter.

That&8217;s likely the reason that being just above average relieves a great deal of pressure on state leaders.

But many students will tell you that a C-plus might look like sunshine to a failing student, but it simply means a mark above average.

Alabama is not at the B mark, where it should be.

There are myriad reasons, but one of the biggest is its financial situation.

On Tuesday night, the director of finances for the state Department of Education painted a dire picture of state funding for local school districts.

There&8217;s a $400 million gap in funding for education this year, and 2009 will be worse, Craig Pouncey promised.

Now plop on top of that a low property tax rate that for the Selma City School District generated about $2.4 million last year.

Sales tax was no better. That revenue was $500,000.

With the economy in the shape it&8217;s in &8212; gas prices leaning more toward $4 a gallon, the government taking risks to prop up the housing market and continued tight spending &8212; the growth outlook does not look bright.

Pouncey urged school officials to tighten their belts, look for ways to capitalize on federal dollars, cooperate and focus.

Now, if we widen the scope a bit and look regionally, even statewide, we see a plethora of needs: prisons crumbling and officials having to sell off land to finance repairs; other officials in transportation talking about toll roads for new construction and cutting back on maintenance of existing roads.

On top of all that, there&8217;s the Medicaid funding quandary that has some suggesting to hang its hopes on bingo and slot machines in Mobile and Birmingham. That might generate $55 million, according to the bill&8217;s sponsors.

Facts are, the Pew study might have lifted Alabama&8217;s reputation from the bottom. Certainly, the state is by no means failing.

A state program that targets returning military veterans for state jobs and another, which provides one-stop shopping for residents to learn about their eligibility for 29 social services were cited as innovations. Indeed, in the people category, the state received a B.

Pew noted that Alabama is not the brightest star in the nation.

But the state has come so far. Even with the fiscal challenges, there are answers.

Perhaps Pouncey&8217;s advice to the Selma City School Board on Tuesday is something all of us should take to heart: stay focused.