During his State of the State Address Tuesday night, Gov. Robert Bentley laid out his four-year plan, which included spending up to $800 million to build four new super prisons. The next day, the governor announced that he wants to transfer $181 million out of the education budget and put it in the general fund budget, which also pays for prisons.
Don’t get me wrong. There are some very serious problems with our state prisons. What’s happening at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women is unacceptable. Changes need to be made, and more prison reform is absolutely needed.
But how can the governor – or any legislators, for that matter – justify spending almost a billion dollars on new accommodations for prisoners while thousands of our children are going to school in run-down facilities that have broken windows and no air conditioning?
Instead of building “super prisons” like what the governor is talking about, how about we build “super schools” instead? Why is the governor willing to invest hundreds-of-millions of dollars in our prison population’s future but wants to cut hundreds-of-millions from our children’s future?
That kind of thinking just doesn’t make any sense to me. But then again, a lot of what Gov. Bentley said in his speech the other night doesn’t make sense to me.
For nearly 20 minutes, Gov. Bentley blasted into President Obama and the federal government. He talked about the constitution and federal overreach like he was going to do something about it. Is he going to stop President Obama and the federal government on refugees like he stopped them on gay marriage?
But then the governor did a complete turn around. He went from sounding as conservative as Sen. Ted Cruz to as progressive as Sen. Bernie Sanders. He called for a government-run broadband company, free tuition for all students at two-year colleges and borrowing $800 million dollars to build these new super prisons.
I can honestly say that Gov. Bentley’s speech was the most bizarre State of the State address I’ve ever heard. But the governor’s plans also prove that our state leaders see education dollars as their ticket out of the general fund budget’s mess.
Public education has been our state leadership’s whipping boy for the last six years. It’s not just the cuts in classroom resources, the unraveling of educators’ pay, benefits and job security, or the larger class sizes that make it harder for students to get the one-on-one time with their teachers that they need and deserve. It’s not even the attempts to undermine the public school system with the “Accountability Act” and charter schools.
Our state leaders see the education budget as an impediment. They don’t see that keeping the education budget separate protects schools from the chaos that is happening in the general fund. If we just had one budget last year when the legislature couldn’t agree on a plan and pass the budget, then our schools would have stayed closed until well into September, costing our children more than a month of education.
Some legislators just won’t acknowledge that fact. Instead, they either want to continue raiding education, like they ultimately did as a part of their budget solution last year, or they want to combine the budgets and expose education to the threat of government shutdowns and proration every year.
I will never understand that kind of thinking. And I can’t get on board with the governor’s plan to build super prisons at the expense of our children and their schools.
And I’m tired of hearing the governor and other state leaders blame all their problems on President Obama and the federal government when the best they can come up with is to rob from our children and give to the thieves and child molesters.
Gov. Bentley can blast President Obama for Obamacare if he wants, but the governor should remember that he is on Medicare, which is a government-run health insurance program.
And the governor can talk about the constitution and federal overreach all he wants, but I don’t hear him complaining when the federal government gives us $3 for every $1 the state spends, or when a tornado strikes and the federal government comes in with FEMA aid.
I don’t understand the way Gov. Bentley and some of our state leaders think. I will never understand how they can think that it’s okay to cut and raid hundreds-of-millions of dollars from education but run up almost a billion dollars in debt to build super prisons for murderers, rapists and other predators.
Maybe if our children had a better education and more opportunities, so many of them wouldn’t end up in prison to begin with? Instead of building super prisons, let’s build super schools.
Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.