Higher education faces ‘cycle of pain’

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 18, 2001

As many of Alabama’s K-12 school systems reveal that they will have to borrow money to make it through the remainder of the fiscal year and university students are now having to deal with less state financial aid, the long-term dangers of poor education funding are vividly illustrated. To deal with the proration, many local school systems have been assisted by temporary tax increases and universities have been left with no choice to raise tuition. These attempts to offset the costs of proration are stop-gap, and the lingering impact of reduced funding remains.

This cycle of pain from poor funding grows more real and more dangerous with each passing year. When the bottom line is cut by 6.2 percent, all education programs suffer two separate but equally destructive hits. The first of these is suffered instantly: fewer repairs to buildings, fewer supplies, vacant teacher/faculty positions, reduced course offerings, etc. These immediate effects alone are enough to disable our education system and cripple our state. But inadequate funding inflicts a second round of long-term effects as well.

This second dose of pain is less conspicuous, but equally harmful. Teachers and faculty members are recruited to out-of-state schools by higher salaries and better resources. Industries notice the low per-student funding rates in K-Graduate School and search for &uot;greener pastures&uot; in other states.

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Without enough resources available in the 2002 budget to cover all of the state’s education needs, the state reduced support for financial aid and lost federal matching funds. The result of this decision will be fewer low income citizens attending college, and more debt for current students.

What is the answer to Alabama’s education funding crisis? The people of this state must continue to aggressively advocate the restructuring of Alabama’s tax system. Every citizen should see this as another signal to join the fight for constitutional and/or tax reform. Alabama must find new and better ways to fund education or the cycle of pain will continue forever.

Gordon Stone is the executive director of Higher Education Partnership in Montgomery.