School Measures Die as Alabama Session Ends
Gov. Guy Hunt's hopes for an "education summit'' were dashed this month when the Alabama legislature balked at his plan for school reform and failed to enact an education budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
In the waning days of the legislative session that ended May 5, the House approved a $2.4-billion education budget and cleared a $10-million compromise version of the reform bill.
But a battle over school "accountability'' measures backed by Mr. Hunt, and disputes over so-called "pork'' projects in the education budget, produced a stalemate in the Senate.
The impasse also impeded passage of a general-fund budget for the state, marking the first time in 17 years that neither budget was adopted during the regular session.
And a host of other proposals languished, including a 7.5 percent pay raise for teachers and a 0.5 percent income-tax hike.
The only education bills approved during the the session were a measure that reduced the years of service required for teachers to retire with full benefits, and a bill that increased the amount of sick leave they may accumulate.
Emergence of 'Contras'
Mr. Hunt will call at least one special session this summer to try to break the budget deadlock before the start of the new fiscal year, according to Terry Abbott, the Governor's press secretary.
In a radio address following the legislative session, Mr. Hunt blamed the impasse on "the selfishness of a few who wanted to grab political power from the Governor and do anything possible to trip up the administration.''
Mr. Hunt maintained that his opponents foiled "historic legislation to dramatically improve the performance of students, teachers, and administrators while allowing local business leaders and parents more access to our schools.'' He vowed to "come back strong'' with his reform bill.
Observers say the legislative dispute dates back to 1986, when senators dissatisfied with the election and subsequent leadership of Lieut. Gov. James E. Folsom Jr. formed a bloc that has opposed the Hunt administration on a number of issues.
"Some of the senators seem to want to relive the 1986 election, when the candidate they supported was defeated,'' said Peck Fox, Mr. Folsom's administrative assistant.
In the course of the recent session, the dissident senators--who have been dubbed the "contras''--garnered enough support to form a majority in the chamber, and negotiations between them and the Governor's backers broke down on most legislation, said Paul Hubbert, executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association.
"Everything went down the tubes,'' Mr. Hubbert said.
Many educators and legislators say they generally supported Mr. Hunt's proposals to raise accountability standards for students, teachers, and administrators, and to launch pilot programs addressing issues ranging from inservice training for teachers and administrators to services for at-risk children.
A controversial part of Mr. Hunt's "quality in education'' bill, however, was a plan to appoint state and local committees to study schools throughout Alabama and propose savings and improvements.
The education department and some education groups feared that the committees would duplicate functions performed by state and local administrators and usurp their authority.
Although he chairs the state board of education, Mr. Hunt "has been unable to retread the department as he would like, so his solution is to create a parallel bureaucracy'' directly under his control, said Randy Quinn, executive director of the Alabama Association of School Boards.
The plan, he argued, would have placed school boards in the position of "trying to serve two masters.''
"We are not opposed to accountability, but we are opposed to certain measures of this bill that we feel are control measures,'' said Max Joiner, executive director of the Alabama Council for School Administration and Supervision.
Some legislators who opposed the bill also viewed the state and local monitoring groups as an attempt to form a "political campaign organization'' for the Republican Governor's re-election, according to Senator Jim Bennett, a Democrat from the Birmingham area.
Although the House passed the $2.4-billion school-aid bill by a wide margin, negotiations over the reform bill kept the chamber from sending the budget to the Senate until late in the session. The Governor had maintained he would not support the budget without the accompanying accountability measures.
The House overwhelmingly approved both measures after Mr. Hunt and House leaders forged a compromise on the reform bill. That plan would have allowed the state Congress of Parents and Teachers and the Business Council to nominate 6 of 12 candidates for the Governor's proposed "Commission on Quality Education,'' and would have ended its tenure in 1991 instead of 1993.
The commission would have appointed local "public-school improvement committees'' from a list of names submitted by local school boards.
Some other controversial elements of Mr. Hunt's plan, such as the removal of tenure for principals, were deleted or modified in the compromise bill.
Where's The Pork?
Dismayed over the fate of his reform bill and concerned that the contras would block the budget measure he supported and offer an unacceptable substitute, the Governor instructed his forces to filibuster the education budget bill in the Senate.
Both the House and Senate versions of the school-aid bill would have
totaled $2.4 billion, an increase of about $250 million over the
current level, with increased funds for instructional supplies,
textbooks, and school maintenance.
But pro- and anti-Hunt forces accused each other of including several million dollars worth of discretionary funds that could be used for political purposes.
"We killed the budget because they had filled it with pork,'' Mr. Abbott said.
"Having to call a special session is a lot better than passing those terrible budgets that were pending in the legislature,'' which were "bloated beyond reason and would have far exceeded the state's revenues,'' Mr. Hunt said.
However, Senator Danny Corbett, a leader of the contra group, charged that the Governor also had lobbied for a pool of discretionary funds to be divided among himself, the Lieutenant Governor, and favored senators.
Mr. Abbott maintained that the funds considered "pork'' by the Governor's opponents would have supported education-reform efforts.
"We weren't going to pass the largest education budget in the state's history without accountability,'' Mr. Abbott said last week. He added that Governor Hunt might wait until late summer to call a special session to allow for a "cooling-off period.''
Anne C. Graham, a spokesman for the education department, said schools would "have time to get in under the wire'' with their fall plans if a budget is passed in early August.
Overall Budget Stymied
Deadlocks over various proposals to fortify the state's ailing general fund also bogged down in the legislature.
After the House killed a proposal by Mr. Hunt to divert $41 million in utility-tax revenues earmarked for schools to the general-fund budget, Mr. Hunt proposed a 0.5 percent income-tax increase to add $100 million to the general fund. The proposal was passed by House but died in the Senate.
Vol. 07, Issue 34