Small cuts to public education add up

Published 10:54 pm Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Death by a thousand cuts. Reputedly this was a form of death by torture practiced centuries ago in China. Instead of a quick death by a stab to the heart or a slit of the throat, death would come slowly over a series of days from many cuts on the arms, legs, face and other parts of the body. Then hands, arms, feet, legs, etc. would be cut off. Death by a thousand cuts.

Public education is being subjected to death by a thousand cuts.

Since December 2010, there have been many painful cuts on the education body. Some cuts on the arms, some on the legs, some on the face, some on other parts of the body. There has not been a slitting of the throat or a stabbing to the heart. However, every cut draws blood, and eventually the body bleeds to death.

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I want to highlight some of these cuts to the public education body. I cannot go into detail on each cut or even highlight every one because there are too many and most are too complicated to explain in this limited space. My goal is to show the breadth, pattern and persistence of these cuts.

I want to start with the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA) of 2013. It cut millions of dollars from the Education Trust Fund and provides scholarships for students in private schools.

Then the AAA cuts were expanded in 2015. AAA is back in 2017 trying to cut more from the education body — all the while proponents loudly proclaim that this program will help educate poor public school students. However, the public education body is bleeding.

Let’s look at other cuts to the Education Trust Fund. The Republican-controlled Legislature passed the Budget Stabilization Fund Act, which limited the amount of funding available for annual public education.

Then some of the money found its way to other uses such as the PACT Scholarship Program. There are continuous efforts to cut more while insisting that this is good for public education.

In 2011, contributions for certain benefits for education employees (and others) were increased nearly 50 percent without a corresponding increase in salaries. They came back in 2012 and reduced retiree benefits and increased costs. They also increased employees’ health insurance expenses – all the while declaring this was for the long-term benefit of public education. As a result, it’s harder and harder to recruit and retain good teachers in Alabama.

The 2011 Education Budget cut the number of public school teachers funded by 1,125. In 2012, $67 million of education revenue was directed to the General Fund Budget — not for one year but each year from now on.

In 2015, the Use Tax was adjusted to transfer $80 million a year from public education to the General Fund. In 2015, there were transfers to PACT and other programs.

Education employees received just two small raises in the last eight years totaling 6 percent at most and less for some. The cost of living continues to rise. More and more of our better teachers are leaving Alabama to teach in Georgia and other states. It is harder and harder to get the better teachers. In certain rural areas, it is virtually impossible to get any certified teachers in math, science and language.

In 2011, the entire system for security for public education employees was thrown out and a new system implemented. Teachers and other education employees have considerably less employment security.

Certainly some changes were warranted, but within the context of so many other cuts, this has had great impact.

People can do great damage by repeatedly inflicting smaller damages.

It’s human nature to let smaller damages go by. But they add up. Some people understand this approach and take small portions until there is little left. Such are the cuts in public education. Death by a thousand cuts.