Asking Santa to fix proration
Every year the FCT asks local schoolchildren to send in their "Dear Santa" letters, which will be published this Sunday.
Many of the letters ask for gifts ranging from video games and TVs to clothing and toys, which is quite appropriate for a Christmas wish list.
But there are also letters where the children ask only for presents for their parents and siblings, rather than for themselves. When a co-worker read me a letter penned by a little boy requesting gifts for his parents, it put a smile on our faces and reminded me about the spirit of Christmas.
So in the spirit shown by that little boy and many others like him, I thought about what I would ask from Santa if I couldn't ask for anything for myself.
I would ask him to leave in our state legislators' stockings a step-by-step plan on how to fix Alabama's recurring education funding problem: proration.
Proration, which was declared at 12.5 percent for the 2008-09 school year by Gov. Bob Riley on Monday, is when projected revenue falls short of budgeted expenditures. That is just a fancy way of saying the state doesn't have enough money to pay all of its education bills.
When a sink faucet springs a leak, there are three ways to deal with the problem. You can go to the source of the leak and repair it, use a variety of temporary solutions to stop the leak or just ignore the problem.
I believe our state has chosen to use Band-Aid solutions when dealing with proration. Instead of fixing the source of the problem – the way education is funded in Alabama – our leaders have used drastic budget cuts and loans to get us through the proration years.
There is nothing wrong with tighter budgets, but I would rather it be done proactively instead of retroactively. I do object to projecting increased revenue in the budget, hiring new teachers, starting new education programs, and then having to deal with revenue shortfalls by cutting those teachers and programs.
According to the Troy Messenger, proration has occurred 17 times since 1950 and three times in the last seven years. Most education funding comes from sales and income tax revenue, which rises and falls with the current economy.
Can you imagine if the amount of your paycheck fluctuated biweekly based on how much money your company made that particular month? Some states fund their education budgets through property taxes, which are a much more stable source of income than sales and income taxes.
I don't know why we can't do that in Alabama, except that our state treats change like a teenager views a curfew – with disdain, dread and resistance.
I know I'm asking a lot of Santa, so maybe it would help if we sent some "Dear Representative" and "Dear Senator" emails and letters, too.