Jobs, education of utmost importance

Published 10:34 pm Monday, February 22, 2010

There is nothing more important in Alabama than jobs and education. Jobs are the most critical for today since the loss of income can be the most devastating thing to a family. Cuts to education are most critical for tomorrow because education attainment is the No. 1 indicator for our state’s economic future. The better today’s students do, the better we all do tomorrow.

Now we have come to a point where both jobs and education are on the line. The governor has submitted a budget that relies on millions in unapproved new jobs stimulus funds from Washington. As gridlock tightens and congressional GOP opposition to any job stimulus grows, the less likely it seems these funds will come.

Without these new jobs dollars, the governor’s budget can only lead to a new round of teacher layoffs and other devastating cuts to schools. He relies solely on something getting passed in Washington while every Alabama senator and congressman except Rep. Artur Davis are on record as opposing any measure. The governor has no backup plan and no other alternative.

The loss of thousands of teaching jobs across Alabama would have a negative impact on children. Loss of teachers means larger class sizes and less one-on-one attention critical to many students.

Loss of teaching jobs negatively impacts the economy, especially in rural counties where teachers often are the largest group of professionals and a significant part of the local economy.

There have already been teacher layoffs numbering in the thousands and job losses due to faltering local revenue. Most money for education comes from the state, and they fund most teaching jobs. However, teachers funded by local sources like weakening county sales tax receipts have caused more than 3,000 Alabama teachers to get pink slips.

Last legislative session, as the recession deepened to its highest extent at the end of the 2008 and the beginning of 2009, we worked on keeping teachers in the classroom first and foremost. However, in a time of shrinking revenue, saving teaching jobs was not simple.

The Constitution of Alabama requires the Legislature to produce balanced budgets. There can be no deficit spending, no borrowing to keep the programs and services like schools open. We can only spend what we have, and no more.

As the recession took hold and the economy grew more uncertain, this task became more and more difficult. The economic downturn caused revenue to fall as unemployment rose and folks pulled back on their spending. The hardship then spread to schools with the loss of school funding.

Over the past two years, we worked hard to create budgets that kept the progress we’ve made in reading and other areas in place while also protecting teaching jobs. Now the Legislature is working on next year’s school budget and we hope to do the same, but the governor’s reliance on unapproved federal funds makes it that much more difficult.

The first round of stimulus funds helped Alabama education. This year and next, our schools will get more than $500 million in stimulus aid that goes directly to save teaching jobs. So far, it is estimated these stimulus funds saved more than 7,000 K-12 positions, which is no small amount.

The governor has his eyes looking north for more, and each day it looks less likely to happen. We have our eyes looking at reality and focusing on what is important: jobs and education. In this case, they are one and the same.