Let’s stand together to protect education

Published 7:14 pm Tuesday, November 1, 2016

By Dr. Robert E. Witt
Witt has served as chancellor of the University of Alabama system.

I have been blessed to call Alabama home for more than 13 years, first as a campus president and then as chancellor of The University of Alabama System. The growth and success of The University of Alabama, UAB and UAH prove to me that we can achieve unprecedented heights when we invest in solutions.

Research by some of the most respected minds in the country into problems that plague both our great state and our nation — poverty, poor health, incarceration, substance abuse, and many others — reveals one consistent truth: education has the greatest potential to address these societal ills.Unfortunately, education is now under attack in Alabama. As a result, although my time as Chancellor of the UA System ended on Sept. 1, my efforts to support education in our state at all levels – from pre-K to Ph.D. – are ramping up to the next level. I am now dedicating a large portion of my time and energy to the work of Alabama Unites for Education. Alabama Unites is the grassroots advocacy group that was launched last winter with a single, critical objective: to protect the Education Trust Fund (ETF). As we all know, the Great Recession took a heavy toll on the state’s ability to adequately fund both education and social services.

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In fact, since 2008, state funding for higher education in Alabama has dropped more than every other state in the country except for Louisiana — meaning that an increasing percentage of the costs of educating students in our colleges and universities are borne by students and their families, driving up student debt. Our K-12 classrooms have suffered greatly as well, as those of us with children and grandchildren are made aware when we purchase and equip them with basic necessities because their schools cannot afford to provide them. First, $80 million in education funding was taken from the ETF and diverted to the General Fund. Emboldened, some elected officials threatened to raid education funding further — and even eliminate the Education Trust Fund altogether by collapsing it into the General Fund. We knew the impact on students, teachers, families and the economy would be catastrophic for generations to come, which led to the creation of Alabama Unites for Education.

As we approach its first anniversary, Alabama Unites is proving its value. The voices of our members have been heard loud and clear in Montgomery with a persuasive and unified message about the need to protect the Education Trust Fund from further raids. Subsequently, we were pleased with passage of the education budget for fiscal 2017, which contains the biggest increase since 2008. I am looking forward to this new chapter in my career and invite you to join me by visiting www.alabamaunites.org.