State, federal legislation to impact schools

Published 1:01 pm Thursday, March 28, 2013

By Fred Guarino
The Lowndes Signal

Both the education flexibility bill recently signed by Gov. Robert Bentley and the sequester order signed by President Barack Obama will impact Lowndes County Public Schools financially.

Alabama’s education flexibility bill gives tax credits to parents who want to transfer their children from a failing public school to another public or private school, while the sequester order contains mandated cuts in federal spending.

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State Sen. Hank Sanders and Lowndes County School Superintendent Dr. Daniel Boyd spoke on the impact of both at a recent meeting of the Lowndes County Board of Education.

Lowndes County Board of Education member Steve Foster also spoke about the sequester order as part of a recent national media press conference.

The National Association of School Boards recently sponsored a press conference for the national media that included a representative from CUBE, the Council of Urban Boards of Education from North Carolina, and Foster from the Lowndes County Board of Education.

“Well, a lot of federal funds are used to benefit children who come from less wealthy families and those federal dollars are what’s being cut,” Foster said.

“And so it’s going to have a very significant effect on Lowndes County because a larger portion of our student body qualifies for free and reduced lunches, which is the standard by which a lot of these funds are determined or distributed,” he said.

He explained that while cuts might not impact a wealthy school district so much, “it will impact Lowndes County because the Title I funds, the IDEA funds, all of those funds are important to us,” he said.

“It’s going to cut software and materials and a lot of those things that have allowed us to make progress in the last few years. Those dollars have come from the federal government and in many cases federal grants,” Foster said.

“It’s really unfortunate that the federal government cannot see terms on the budget and do what is best, not just for education but all federally funded programs,” Boyd said.

He said the sequester will cut 5 to 7 percent from the federal funds and anticipated 5.2 percent from the Head Start Program.

While he said “the child nutrition program will not be cut,” he said Title I (used to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds) and Title II (professional development funds), are going to be cut, along with IDEA funds, which are special education funds.

“What we’re doing this year is we’re using every single penny that we can from the 1003g grant and the Teacher Incentive Fund grant to cover our professional development,” Boyd said.

He said the school system would not use any Title I, Title II and IDEA funds for professional development. And “Whatever is left over in those other funds,” he said, “the state Department will let us carry over those particular funds into the next year.”

Boyd said the school system is holding back on anything it doesn’t necessarily have to do to develop a cushion “so that next year won’t be so hard for us.”

However, Boyd acknowledged that there “will be some difficult times” ahead but said the school system will “manage” to get through it.

The board also discussed Alabama’s education flexibility bill.

Sanders said “the crux is” the bill made it more difficult for teacher tenure “but the real problem was that it created a situation to support private schools.”

He said as much as $367 million a year could be lost.

Sanders reported on efforts by the Alabama Education Association to stop the bill, which he said the State Supreme Court allowed to be signed into law.

“There will continue to be struggles about this bill. It will have an adverse affect upon education everywhere,” Sanders said. “But there will be additional litigation about it. I think it will have some long-term impact.”

Sanders said he thought the bill was initiated “because certain members really wanted to find a way to support private schools rather than public education and wanted to use public money for it.”

Boyd expressed his surprise at the passage of the flexibility bill.

“I’m truly amazed that our Legislators approved the bill and that this particular bill became law,” Boyd said. “It truly breaks the public educational system as we know it.”

He said everyone deserves the right to a free and public education and that this “particular law is going to do a lot to cripple education.”

He said the big problem he sees is that the Education Trust Fund would be cut considerably.

He said the money that would normally go into it will be divided by all the schools based on the foundation program.

Sanders said the first year it could be in excess of 10 percent the entire education budget.

“It just does not deal with students who are in school. The way it is drawn, people who have never been in the public school system would also benefit from this law. We just have to keep fighting it and hope it never goes into effect,” he said.

“This may be the biggest challenge we’ve ever faced as a school district,” Boyd said. “But I feel confident that with the proper planning and the guidance we will get trough this just like we’ve have through other things. We’re going do everything we can to make sure good teaching in America continues.”