Alabama Educators Seek Stable Funding

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A special session of the Alabama legislature called by Gov. George C. Wallace last week to address the state's $115-million revenue shortfall will raise only "an insignificant amount" of money for education, according to a spokesman for the Governor.

But even though the $1.1-billion budget for precollegiate education for the current school year is about $200 million less than it was a year ago, educators say they will not be lobbying intensively for a spending increase during the special session.

Instead, said Wayne Teague, state superintendent of education, they plan to launch a "massive campaign to educate the public" before the start of the regular legislative session in April about the urgent need to support "more stable funding for K-12 education."

Oil Prices

Alabama's education trust fund, which pays for all education in the state, derives more than 80 percent of its revenue from income and sales taxes, which are both highly sensitive to changes in the economy. Plummeting oil prices and declining interest rates have driven revenues down, forcing Governor Wallace this summer to order a 5 percent across-the- board budget cut.

In the last quarter of fiscal 1986, which ended Sept. 1, the $11-billion precollegiate-education budget was cut by about $91 million, said Charles Rowe, the state's budget officer.

A reduction of up to 11 percent, or about $116 million, will be imposed on the total fiscal 1987 budget, Mr. Rowe said.

Election-Year Pressure

"The feeling in the education department is that any revenue [raised during the special session] would be very nice as a Band-Aid," said Richard McBride, the state education department's director of legislative relations and research. "But in an election year, the chances of passing the substantial revenue needed for education are very slim."

Added Sally Howell, director of communications for the Alabama Association of School Boards: "The state needs to take a look at the whole tax structure. We don't need Band-Aids, we need major surgery. In the meantime, we'll have to take it on the chin."

Luther Mitchell, a spokesman for Mr. Teague, said school districts will have to respond to the budget reduction by reducing services. "We'll have less chalk, make fewer repairs, maybe ask parents to buy textbooks for their children," he said.

"This special session was not called to help education," Mr. Teague said. "At best, they'll close a loophole in the sales-tax laws, which would prevent the loss of an additional $10 million in education money. It is hopeless to ask for the kind of money education needs in an election year."

"We need a more stable tax base," Mr. Teague stressed, "and I intend to work full time between now and the regular session to try and educate the public on the need to restructure and increase education funding. It will be a massive campaign. Anybody who wants to be involved can be."

Lobbying Effort

According to Mr. Mitchell, Mr. Teague recently created an "emergency- action task force" consisting of some 20 local superintendents to help get the lobbying effort under way.

Ms. Howell of the state schoolboards association also pointed out that the financial subcommittee of Governor Wallace's Education Reform Commission will soon release the findings of its study of the state's education-finance system.

In addition, the Council of 21, a group of business leaders that issued a report on higher education in the state two years ago, has been asked by state officials to regroup and examine the education-funding system, according to Sonny Brasfield, a spokesman for the Alabama Commission on Higher Education.

Governor Wallace, who will retire in January, "will leave education to the next governor," said his press secretary, Frank Mastin Jr.

Mr. Mastin added, however, that the Governor supports a change in the tax structure to provide education funding with a more stable base.

"I have to tell you, though, that 94 such attempts were made since 1959, all of which failed," he noted. "What is needed first is a change m attitude here about taxes."

Vol. 06, Issue 02, Page 8

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