Spend wisely for schools

Shelby County Schools is working toward the looming Jan. 30 deadline to submit their revised and state prorated budget for 2009.

Our schools have seen this before. In fact, in the 30 fiscal years from 1979 to 2009, the state’s education budget has been prorated nine times.

That means that for every three budgets passed by the legislature, one of those budgets ends up in proration.

That’s an alarming statistic, especially for the children in our public schools and our teachers.

This vicious cycle of mid-year proration cuts must stop.

Our state legislature must stop passing education budgets that are based on unsustainable revenue growth estimates.

During the past three education budgets, spending has increased by more than 18 percent. But the December declaration of 12.5 percent proration wiped out most of those gains in education funding.

We must use a disciplined approach to budgeting. The bottom line is that there is a better way — a way that protects public education in Alabama and allows systems such as Shelby County Schools to make progress in excellence while meeting the demands of a growing population.

Historical growth in education revenues in Alabama, when averaged over a 15-year period, indicate annual growth rates that range between 4.1 -5.6 percent.

If we establish a budget ceiling, based on a 15-year historical growth rate, we can sustain growth in the Education Trust Fund and prevent proration in the future.

Budgeting at these proven growth rates allows education to grow at a reasonable rate, and in those years where revenues are higher, reserves can be built that roll from year to year.

Those rolling reserves can later be tapped when the economy slows. Let’s hope the Alabama Legislature’s New Year’s resolution for this coming session is to adopt a rolling reserve approach to budgeting education.