Education funding needs fixing

Published 7:50 pm Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Our state Legislature is close to passing a $6.2 billion budget to fund education, according to Associated Press. The budget contains good news, bad news, and what should serve as a lesson.

The good news—besides the fact that a budget is being passed, which is not always a given for Alabama lawmakers—is that the budget likely means most education employees won’t lose their jobs in a slumping economy.

But job cuts aren’t necessary only because of the availability of federal stimulus money, and the budget cuts funding for school supplies and for programs to improve student performance in several subjects. That’s the bad news.

So, expect a trend toward schools holding fundraisers just to be able to offer supply staples like pencils, paper and chalk. That’s a much better situation than a widespread loss of teacher positions, but our budget woes should make one thing obvious: Alabama needs a better way to fund education (and we’re not talking about a lottery) than our current reliance on a sales tax.

No state is immune to the problems caused by an economic downturn, but a recession doesn’t have to be crippling even without stimulus money. Of the three most commonly utilized forms of taxation—income, property and sales taxes—the sales tax, besides being the most regressive, is the most erratic. What’s the first thing that happens when times get tough? People stop buying as much, and therefore pay less sales tax.

Instead, a more viable property tax should be the foundation of Alabama’s education system. Our property tax is one of the lowest in the country.

And what is a minor increase, really, when the education of our children is at stake?