Budget jeopardizes school programs

Published 7:47 pm Friday, February 10, 2012

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley on Wednesday proposed state budgets for next year that would use the Education Trust Fund to give a $230 million bailout to the cash-strapped General Fund, which supports prisons, courts and other non-education areas of state government.

Among the programs hardest hit in the proposed budget are the Alabama Reading Initiative and the High Hopes Program.

“The Alabama Reading Initiative, that’s one program that it’s easy to see has made a big difference in our students,” said Demopolis Superintendent Dr. Al Griffin. “Each year, that is budgeted somewhere around $50 million. This proposal cuts that down to zero.”

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Without state funding, Demopolis would have to rely on the teachers on staff who are currently trained to implement the program. However, those teachers’ support network would be obliterated.

“There wouldn’t be anyone that could come down and work with the teachers, or an outside person that could come down and work with the students along side the teachers,” Griffin said. “Those people are specially trained and offer a different perspective for the teachers and the students. Losing that kind of support for the reading program would be devastating.”

Many lawmakers blasted Bentley’s budget, and most say the governor’s bailout plan had no chance in the Legislature, even though the governor has professed there will not be an alternative offered.

Bentley’s budget proposes shifting $185 million in Medicaid costs for children from the General Fund budget to the state education budget and transfers $45 million in tax revenue from education to the General Fund budget to help state agencies.

Shuffling that kind of money has cut most state education programs from 1 to 8 percent. The High Hopes Program, an initiative designed to increase performance on the high school graduation exam, would be cut by 50 percent.

“We remediate our eleventh graders before the spring graduation exam,” Griffin said, “and any twelfth graders who didn’t pass it through their senior year. High Hopes funds pays for that program.”

Further, Griffin said, without some sort of budget alterations, the state is likely to raise its divisor number for the second year in a row, which would eliminate teaching jobs across the state.

“It doesn’t look like this year would be as bad as last year, and last year was bad,” Griffin said of layoffs in districts around the state.