AEA, Hubbert get revenge as schools suffer

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 1, 2008

The regular session of the Legislature was pretty much a disaster for Alabama Education Association executive secretary Paul Hubbert.

He wasn&8217;t successful at blocking Chancellor Bradley Byrne’s initiative to bar lawmakers from employment in the two-year college system.

Plans Hubbert endorsed to set up a &8220;legislative council&8221; to review state Board of Education actions and to establish a separate board for the two-year system failed as well.

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And despite the political muscle of Hubbert&8217;s Alabama Education Association, a proposed school budget which forced higher education to take a disproportionate share of state funding cuts failed to pass.

But the teachers&8217; union leader is getting his payback this week in the special session that Gov. Bob Riley called to approve a school budget.

To punish higher education for opposing the school budget, which would have slashed state funding to colleges and universities by about 11 percent, a &8220;compromise&8221; was crafted.

The new plan would force higher education to take an additional $5 million cutback. The money will go instead to K-12 schools.

Hubbert and company initially wanted more but higher education supporters apparently were able to plea-bargain for what Hubbert called &8220;a tap on the wrist.&8221; He said the new cut is large enough to get the attention of higher education leaders like Malcolm Portera, University of Alabama chancellor, without being vindictive.

That&8217;s a bad joke. The new cut is patently vindictive &8212; punishment to the higher education community for having the temerity to oppose what Hubbert wants.

Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, said he doubts there will be any conditional spending next year.

The state will be doing well, in fact, if it manages to avoid a new round of proration – across the board budget cuts that are constitutionally mandated when revenues fall short. The legislators crafted a school budget that is about $200 million more than what the Legislative Fiscal Office says will actually be available.

Regardless, Hubbert will have his revenge.

What he has in mind for Byrne remains to be seen but the two-year chancellor had better be cautious.

Pitting K-12 against higher education is counterproductive to progress. But it is the inevitable result of the Legislature&8217;s failure to reform taxes.

As long as education revenue remains chronically short, the two sides will continue to scrap for every penny available and the turf wars will continue.