Budget & Finance

As Promised, Cuts Follow Failed Alabama Tax Vote

By Erik W. Robelen — October 08, 2003 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Less than a month after Alabama voters rejected a tax referendum that promised a windfall for education, Gov. Bob Riley has signed a new budget that cuts funding for textbooks, teacher professional development, and several other school-related items.

“I think it’s going to mean a terrible blow to us for education,” Robert Morton, an assistant state schools superintendent, said after the governor approved the measure last week.

The actual amount of K-12 spending in the Education Trust Fund—the main source of state aid for schools—rose slightly in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. It reached $2.91 billion, an increase of about $12 million, or less than one percent.

But the increase, and then some, will be taken up by an estimated $80 million in additional costs for teacher health insurance and retirement benefits, Mr. Morton said.

Spending on textbooks is dropping from about $42 million in fiscal 2003 down to $5.2 million in fiscal 2004. The state also zeroed out a $2.8 million line item for professional development, $6.2 million for school library enhancements, and $8.4 million for school technology.

In addition, the Alabama Department of Education saw a reduction of about $3.9 million, or 17 percent, in its operations and maintenance account, Mr. Morton said. Much of that will come from not filling 51 vacancies at the agency, according to Mr. Morton. The department has 293 employees.

“You’ve still got the same job to do,” Mr. Morton added. “One area it really hurts us is ... our ability to go out to the school systems and help them when they have problems” with academic issues or financial management.

“It wasn’t as bad as we feared,” Susan Salter, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Association of School Boards, said of the budget legislation, “but there are some pretty devastating cuts in it.”

The cut for textbooks will be especially painful, she said. Alabama has a seven-year cycle for textbooks, and each year the state typically replaces textbooks in one subject. For the current school year, that subject is mathematics. But the money provided will be enough to pay for workbooks for students in grades K-2 only, Ms. Salter said.

She noted that the state recently changed its math standards and adopted an updated set of math exams, and the old textbooks may not fully reflect those changes.

Sen. Henry “Hank” Sanders, a Democrat, said this year’s was the most troubling of the nine education budgets he’s overseen as the chairman of the Senate committee on education finance and taxation. “It was a bleak situation,” he said.

“We have been promising educators that if they just worked hard and did even more with what they currently have, help would be on the way,” Mr. Sanders said. “But instead of help, what we are coming with is cuts and more cuts.”

A ‘Symptom’?

The funding situation for education is dramatically different from what it would have been had Alabama voters supported the tax referendum put forward by the state’s Republican governor. (“Alabama Voters Reject Gov. Riley’s Tax Plan,” Sept. 17, 2003.)

That package would have rewritten the tax code and eventually brought in an extra $1.2 billion each year, much of that slated for education. It also contained new accountability measures both for schools and state government.

But voters, by a resounding 68 percent to 32 percent, rejected the tax plan. Gov. Riley warned that without the additional revenue, the state, facing a funding shortfall of nearly $700 million, would be forced to slash government spending.

“These budgets were the best that could be passed under the circumstances,” said David Azbell, the governor’s spokesman. “We didn’t have to lay off teachers this year. We didn’t have to lay off support staff.”

The fiscal situation is expected to worsen next year, and will likely include such layoffs. For this fiscal year, state officials softened the education blow by tapping into a rainy-day fund and using a portion—about $75 million—of a one-time federal payment for education costs. Congress handed states about $20 billion in extra aid, some of it for Medicaid reimbursements, as part of a compromise on tax legislation earlier this year.

Marty Connors, the chairman of the Alabama Republican Party and an opponent of the referendum, said he shares the concern about the announced cuts for this year. But he argues that the problem with education is not how much money is spent, but where it goes.

“The lack of money for textbooks, or for that matter classroom activities, is a symptom, not the disease,” Mr. Connors said. “It’s being sucked up by some extraordinary teacher benefits.”

He contends that “the disease is the teachers’ unions.”

Mr. Azbell said that the state does need to get teacher- benefit costs under control, but he argued that such an effort is only one “piece of a very large puzzle.”

“Keep in mind that part of [the tax plan] would have required teachers to pay more for their health insurance,” he said. “Everybody understands that we have to get [teacher retirement and teacher benefits] under control. ... But when you’re looking at deficits the size that we have, that’s not going to magically cure all our ills.”

Some education programs survived the process unscathed.

For instance, the Alabama Reading Initiative received as much as it did in the last budget, or $12.5 million. And the budget gave a modest lift to the amount teachers receive for classroom supplies, from $525 per teacher last year to $584 this year. However, $100 of the per-teacher amount must be spent for schoolwide supplies, such as costs for photocopiers.

Related Tags:


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Law & Courts Webinar
Future of the First Amendment:Exploring Trends in High School Students’ Views of Free Speech
Learn how educators are navigating student free speech issues and addressing controversial topics like gender and race in the classroom.
Content provided by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Start Strong With Solid SEL Implementation: Success Strategies for the New School Year
Join Satchel Pulse to learn why implementing a solid SEL program at the beginning of the year will deliver maximum impact to your students.
Content provided by Satchel Pulse
Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Budget & Finance How Are Schools Spending ESSER Funds? 4 Takeaways From a New Report
More than 4 in 10 districts have already obligated all their pandemic relief aid, while nearly a third are still getting started.
5 min read
Image of a dollar bill folded into an upward arrow.
Budget & Finance A Flood of Federal Cash and Then Layoffs. What Gives?
Some districts are cutting dozens of positions or scaling back programs to account for declining enrollment and inflationary pressure.
11 min read
Signs in support of keeping Diablo Community Day School open in Concord, Calif., on April 11, 2022. The school is being closed at the end of the school year due to budget cuts.
Signs support keeping Diablo Community Day School open in Concord, Calif. The school is being closed at the end of the school year due to budget cuts.
Ramin Rahimian for Education Week
Budget & Finance Some Surprising Things Schools Might Have to Cut Because of Fuel Cost Increases
A spike in transportation and delivery costs is forcing some administrators to cut classroom spending and increase school lunch prices.
4 min read
Composite of photo of gas prices and bar chart showing an upward arrow with an illustration of a gas pump.
Gina Tomko/Education Week and Getty
Budget & Finance Chicago Public Schools Asked to Repay $87 Million It Got From 'Coding Error'
The state of Illinois will distribute the money to hundreds of school districts that were underpaid.
Tracy Swartz, Dan Petrella, and Karen Ann Cullotta, Chicago Tribune
3 min read
Crumpled Up Dollar Bill
iStock/Getty Images Plus