With the Alabama legislature now back in Montgomery wrestling with a lack of revenue in the General Fund budget, educators across the state are fearful a raid on the Education Trust Fund is imminent.

One of the measures that seems to have the most favor among house and senate members is to shift revenue from the Use Tax from ETF to general fund.  This is about $225 million.  Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh says one of the major concerns in doing this is how do you “backfill” to replace money taken from ETF as there seems to be consensus that any such move would leave education with less funding.

Which begs the point, why take money from ETF and then try to replace it from another source.  Why not take the sources used for the “backfill” and use this to shore up the general fund?  Isn’t this akin to taking $25,000 from one savings account and replacing it with $20,000 from another account?

Fueling this slight of hand is the mistaken notion by some legislators that there is a “surplus” in the Education Trust Fund.  However, those who do their homework will find there is no surplus since the state is far behind its obligation to adequate fund the Foundation program.  This program set up specific education components the state should fund, such as transportation.  Since this is not being done, local systems are forced to spend money intended for classroom instruction to cover the state’s lack of funding.

For example, as state superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice pointed out last week, the Montgomery County system is using $500,000 of local funds to run buses (a program the state is supposed to fund entirely).  This, of course, diverts funding that would more directly impact the education process.

Bice said, “Let me be very clear and supportive of House Budget Chair Bill Poole – there is no “surplus” in the ETF when the Foundation Program remains close to 400 million dollars below the funding formulas contained within it and those differences are being absorbed by our local school systems and their community members who have already committed their 10-mil equivalent of property tax just to participate in the Foundation Program.”

The superintendent added, “As students return to public schools this fall they will enter a system with the graduation rate now at 86% four years ahead of our projection – the highest ever recorded in Alabama’s public school history – and Alabama is well on its way to the 90% goal that is foundational to PLAN 2020.

 59% of last year’s graduates exited high school with an industry-recognized work readiness certificate.

 Alabama public school students led the nation in the percentage increase of qualifying scores on AP exams.

 Multiple school systems have sought and obtained Innovation Status and are delivering education in innovative and creative ways all based on the individual and collective needs of their students.

All of these exceptional advances are the result of great students being taught by dedicated teachers, leaders, and support staff at a time when the per-pupil state funding in Alabama has decreased by the largest percentage than any other state in the nation. What does that tell us about the dedication of our teachers and the resilience of our students!!

However, given the track record of this legislature since 2013 when it comes to supporting public schools (can you say Alabama Accountability Act, charter schools, accountability act amendment) it is difficult to be optimistic.