There must be a way to do good

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 13, 2005

“This is Deborah.

I just want you to know that the Alabama Supreme Court just declared Community Service Grants unconstitutional by a vote of 7-0.

The opinion will not be issued until 2:00 p.m.

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I wanted you to know as soon as possible because I’m sure others will be calling you.”

The message on my cell dramatically changed my moment.

Until that message, I was in a very good mood.

I had made remarks at the Black Belt Treasures Ribbon Cutting in Wilcox County.

I was contemplating writing a Sketches about the Black Belt Treasures experience as I headed to Montgomery to fly to Savannah, Georgia.

The recorded message charged the moment with a different power.

This moment was rooted in previous moments.

One such moment was the 1998 Act establishing the Community Service Grant Program.

Another such moment was the filing of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law in May 2004.

A third such moment was the circuit court ruling in November 2005 declaring the law constitutional.

Now we were in a different moment and the implications were profound.

Let me explain the Community Service Grants Program, which provides for the awarding of grants in each legislative district.

The law sets up a committee of four senators and four representatives with the Governor’s Finance Director and State School Superintendent as advisory members.

When funds are appropriated through the budget, a certain amount is allocated for each House and Senate district.

Legislators recommend the grants but the Committee screens each grant to make certain it is within the purposes of the Community Services Grants statute and budget requirements.

The media is usually present at these deliberations.

In the first couple years, money was appropriated from both the Education Fund and General Fund.

During the last five or six years, funds were only appropriated from the Education Fund because the General Fund was experiencing difficulties.

Funds were short in the Education Fund one year, and no funds were appropriated so there were no grants.

The Community Service Grants Program has been effective and efficient.

A lot of needs have been met that would have otherwise gone lacking.

Let me share with you how I go about.

I send a letter with a grant form to every superintendent and principal in Senate District 23.

I ask them to provide a copy to every teacher, support worker, PTA, etc. so they can apply for mini grants to help better educate our children.

I use this approach because teachers and others are on the front line of education.

They know the niches where a little money can be placed to do a lot of good in helping our children.

Mini Community Service Grants helped fill those niches.

This year I received nearly 2,000 applications for mini grants, most of which could not be funded for lack of money.

Not every legislator utilizes this approach.

However, each has found fertile niches in their own way.

After seven years and thousands of proposals, I continue to be amazed at how a little money can help so much when placed in the right niche.

Now these needs will go unmet unless we do something.

We were all so sure that the law was on the side of continuing the Community Services Grants Program.

The Supreme Court decision was a shock.

Nearly all Senate and House members feel strongly that the Community Service Grants Program works well and does lots of good.

While I have not talked to each legislator, I’m sure the huge majority want to see the program continued.

Now the question is how to do it legally and constitutionally.

I already have my thinking cap on.

So do others.

There is always a legal way to do good.

Of course, we could place every grant in the budget itself, and that would be perfectly constitutional.

However, the education budget would be many times its current number of pages.

Moreover, needs would have to be determined up to a year and a half in advance.

And it would be very hard to place a few hundred dollars in the right educational niche.

Each legislative district, school system, school/classroom presents different needs.

The current budgeting process cannot address those differences.

The Community Service Grants Program helped address those differences.

There must be a way to do the same good.

Now on to the Daily Diary.

Saturday – I was still in Savannah, Georgia.

I attended a conference on Giving Circles where I communicated with leaders such as Marcus Littles of New York, David Dodson of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Steven Meyer of Minneapolis, Minnesota and Chris Spencer of Sumter County.

I traveled from Savannah to Atlanta, on to Montgomery and on to Selma.