The rally was attended by Sen. Greg Reed, Rep. Bill Roberts, Rep. Richard Baughn, Walker County Schools Superintendent Jason Adkins, as well as members of the Walker County and Jasper boards of education.
Butch Sargent, director of AEA Uniserv, said there are many challenges ahead for state educators, but that despite years of budget cuts and proration, Alabama teachers know how to do the job without the resources.
“Many of us have gone out and purchased supplies for our classrooms, sacrificing our families for our students,” Sargent said. “That’s the mentality of a teacher. For years though we have been told that the salary of teachers were going to be brought up to the average of other educators in the Southeast. We’re nowhere near that today. It’s a tsunami effect that has not only hit us here in Alabama, but across the nation. We’re not just talking about the insurance for our educators or their retirement, but their job security as well.”
Sargent added that when the budgets are passed in Montgomery, funding for educational programs and other expenditures will be decided, ultimately affecting the state students in grades K-12. However, he said tax loopholes for out-of-state businesses rob the state of money that could be used to fund education.
Sargent said something has to be done to plug this gap.
“According to Alabama Department of Revenue figures, there was $105 billion of income from these companies that when through the state was not taxed,” Sargent said. “If our Legislature closed the loopholes associated with this tax dodging and made sure corporate tax returns were checked, education would gain over $200 million in new funding. That’s $200 million for our children.”
Adkins spoke on the importance of understanding the past and current states of funding of the Walker County School System, which has affected decisions that have been made, as well as decisions that will be made in the future.
“Years ago when the economy was good we had a surplus amount of funds and in previous years we had stimulus money that we could fall back on,” Adkins said. “When the economy began to take a dive back in 2007-08, there were decisions that we should have made as a board to adjust to the downward trend. We’re $1 million in debt as a school system and we were told that we have to make up $4.7 million by the end of the year to get back to zero. Right now, there’s nothing for us to fall back on and that means we have to make some tough decisions. Nevertheless, we have to keep in mind and make sure that in balancing our budgets, we don’t put everything on the backs of our educational employees.”
Reed, a graduate of the Walker County School System who has three children currently attending Jasper City schools, relayed the importance of education and said he intends to be accessible to hearing the concerns of educators on the funding issues.
“Before I went to Montgomery for my first session, myself and Reps. Roberts, and Baughn met with all of the administrators in the Walker County Schools system to get a list of issues that need to be addressed,” Reed said. “The top issue on that list was not cutting teachers’ jobs. I had a conversation with Gov. Robert Bentley last Friday in Tuscaloosa and he spoke on the tax loophole process, in which he told me there are companies here in Alabama that have not paid their taxes who need to be. He told me there was as much $30 million in next year’s budget if we closed those loopholes. I fully support the ideal that if people are not paying their taxes, they should be required to pay them. At the same time, you have to consider that certain incentive programs for tax breaks brought in companies like Hyundai, Honda, Mercedes and the Boeing plant that employ hundreds of thousands of Alabamians that pay income tax that support our education programs. There’s a proper balance there but the loophole issue must be addressed.”
Reed also spoke on the 15 year running budget currently being proposed, which will allow legislators to project how much funding will be allocated for different aspects of state management and avoid proration and errant spending based on economic circumstances.
Baughn and Roberts answered questions about recent legislation passed in the House concerning the tenure law, bills on AEA membership fees and other budget issues. Educators in attendance spoke on their concerns about the passing of the bills and votes the representatives cast on the laws.