In previous columns, I have written about the mistakes I believe Republicans are making in regards to our public education system. I have also written about the need to provide competitive compensation to keep and attract the best and brightest to the education profession.
When the legislature returns to Montgomery next year, Democrats will offer a full agenda to support our schools. Our agenda will center around three goals: to make our schools healthier, to provide more resources for classrooms, and to support teachers and education personnel with a long-overdue pay increase.
Healthier children have an easier time learning, and are more likely to be successful in school. This year, Democratic Representative Elaine Beech sponsored a bill to allow Alabama farmers to sell their produce to local schools. This legislation was an excellent start, but there is more we can do to make sure we have healthier foods in our schools.
Another way we can make our schools healthier is to provide more support for physical education and athletics. Healthier students have an easier time concentrating and participating in class. And as many coaches will tell you, students’ grades tend to improve when they play sports.
In addition to making our schools healthier, the Democratic agenda for 2013 will include a measure to provide badly needed resources to our schools. This does not mean throwing money at schools and hoping for the best. Democrats want to invest in our schools. We do this by investing in proven programs, such as the Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative that has proven so successful in the schools where it has been implemented.
Investing in our schools also means providing teachers and students with the resources they need. In some schools, teachers have to use their own money to pay for copies of worksheets and other handouts they provide to their students. And how many of us have received letters from teachers asking parents to provide paper towels, tissues, and other basic supplies for classrooms because the school did not have enough money to provide them. That just shouldn’t be!
This year, Democrats in the senate fought to provide $1,000 to every teacher to purchase classroom supplies. The Republicans reduced that amount to $300. That is better than nothing, but Democrats believe students and teachers need more.
Democrats have also been fighting to provide classrooms with newer textbooks. In some schools, students are using textbooks that are 10 years old. Every year, Alabama graduates are entering college unprepared for college level courses in part because their high schools were using out-of-date textbooks that did not include current theories, concepts or teaching methods.
Lastly, the Democratic agenda will include legislation to provide a cost-of-living pay increase for educators and other public employees who have not had a cost-of-living pay increase since before the recession began. Ask any business owner and they will tell you: if you want the best, you have to offer a competitive compensation package.
Education is not only essential to our children’s future; it is essential to our state’s future. Without a properly educated workforce, we cannot recruit new or higher-paying jobs.
We have to invest in our children today, and Democrats are preparing an agenda to do just that.
Representative Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden. He has served in the Alabama House of Representatives since 2000. In 2010, the House Democratic Caucus elected Ford House as Minority Leader. He was re-elected Minority Leader in 2012.