Raiding Education Trust Fund is No Solution for State Crisis
The Education Trust Fund contains the word “trust” for a reason. The word “trust” implies, by definition, one of highest expectations. It means a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of something.
The special session of the Legislature that will take place later this summer will present the biggest threat to the Education Trust Fund in 40 years. Still reeling from the 2008 recession, the drastically underfunded and structurally deficient General Fund must have new revenue. Some legislators and special interests talk of unearmarking education taxes, combining budgets, or depleting the Rolling Reserve, all to pay for prisons and Medicaid.
“There is nothing more uniting for the education family in Alabama than the fight to protect revenue dedicated to community schools,” said AEA President Anita Gibson. “Nothing has united the majority of legislators, the people of Alabama, and AEA more than the continuing integrity of the Education Trust Fund.”
AEA members, educators at all levels, have literally kept the “trust” and protected it since the Legislature created the Education Trust Fund in 1927, and responsible legislators have long prevented raids on education funding. AEA members have held sacred the Education Trust Fund and have been the driving force to protect education funding in Alabama. We will have to stand united against the new threat we face.
The easiest target for legislators to tackle the General Fund crisis may be the Rolling Reserve, conceived and passed as a guaranteed fund for Alabama schools so that proration would never haunt classrooms again. The combined pain of the 2008 recession – the reduction in classroom supplies, the higher costs for healthcare and retirement for educators, and an eight-year drought in persistent raises – has brought real pain for students and educators through lack of textbook and technology money and pay cuts to shore up the Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS). That pain was endured with the promise of never experiencing mid-year proration again.
The idea that proration would be a thing of the past has great merit. Legislators deserve credit for funding the Rolling Reserve and having funds on hand to deal with any sudden downturn in the economy in the future. However, now is not the time for them to lose their fiscal discipline and succumb to the temptation to use those savings to prop up the General Fund. Money put aside to ensure continuity in our children’s education should not be used to fund prisons.
“Our local schools, students, and education employees have suffered to pay for the Rolling Reserve’s protection against proration by putting money in the bank,” said Gibson. “Every effort to divert the Education Trust Fund has been met by the strong voices of the members of AEA, and our duty is to unite all educators, retirees, and every Alabama citizen in defense of our education funding.”
Speculation is that the Special Session of the Legislature will be in August, and the Governor has said that he is reaching out to legislative leaders to resolve the crisis in the General Fund.
While your legislators are at home for the next few weeks, let them know that you appreciate them having taken steps to prevent proration in the future, but that they have to hold the line against combining budgets or unearmarking, which would only serve to weaken education. Urge them to stand with educators against emptying the Rolling Reserve, which only serves to put the interests of prisoners over our children.