Education budget a slap in the face

By State Rep. Craig FordBy State Rep. Craig Ford

 It has been a rough year for public education in Alabama. In fact, for the past three years, the Republicans in the Alabama legislature have been waging a war on public education.
    And because of the education budget that passed the state House of Representatives last week, next year isn’t looking much better.
    Particularly, there are two proposals included in this budget that are nothing more than a slap in the face to educators, state employees and the taxpayers.
    The first of these proposals is a two-percent pay increase for some educators.
    Now, a two-percent pay increase may sound like a good deal, but there are problems with this proposal. First, this pay increase was not given to retirees (who have not had a cost-of-living pay increase since 2006) or those who work in higher education and post-secondary education.
    Secondly, while some are calling this pay increase a pay raise, it is actually not a pay raise. This is a partial pay reinstatement. Over the past three year, the legislature has cut all educators pay – including retirees and higher education employees – by 2.5 percent. So all this budget is really doing is giving educators back some, but not all, of what was taken from educators.
    Furthermore, a two-percent pay increase is a slap in the face to educators because the cost of living has increased 7.5 percent since their last pay increase. So we should be giving educators a 10-percent pay increase in order to keep up with the rising costs of expenses.
    This pay reinstatement is also a slap in the face to state employees. In the past, every time the legislature gave educators a pay raise, we also gave an equal pay raise to state employees. But this year, state employees will get nothing. Their pay was also cut when the Republicans cut educators pay. And state employees have also seen their cost of living go up.
    Do state employees, those in higher education and retirees not deserve a pay increase as well? If we can find $50 million for vouchers to send kids to private school, can we not find the money to at least give an equal pay increase for all educators, retirees and state employees?
    The second proposal that is a slap in the face to educators and taxpayers is unnecessary line-item expenditure for liability insurance for educators. This new expenditure will cost the state $5 million a year to provide insurance that teachers and support personnel are already getting through their local school boards.
    They also get liability coverage if they are members of AEA or the Alabama Teachers Federation through those organizations.
    So why is the state spending $5 million dollars to provide a third source of liability coverage?
    And what if the employee is in arbitration with the state over wrongful termination? Isn’t that a conflict of interest if the employees’ representatives are paid by the state?
    A better use of that $5 million would be to buy new textbooks or to pay for class fieldtrips and other learning tools. Spending this money on liability coverage is a slap in the face to the taxpayers who are paying for it, and to the educators who could be undermined by it if they find themselves in arbitration against the state.
    The education budget that passed the state House of Representatives is a slap in the face to Alabama’s taxpayers, educators, state employees and retirees. While a two-percent pay increase is better than nothing (and that is why I voted for it despite its flaws), it does not even replace the 2.5 percent that Republicans took from educators and state employees over the past three years. Furthermore, this pay increase is not being given to retirees or those who work in higher education. And the liability insurance program is an unnecessary diversion of $5 million tax dollars that could be put to better use in the classroom.
    Alabama’s educators and taxpayers deserve better than what they are getting from their elected representatives in Montgomery. I only hope the state senate will fix these problems and do what is right before it is too late.

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