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franklin county times

Holiday cheer may be withheld from our schools

It is Christmas time and people are flocking to stores.
From initial retail numbers, it looks like this holiday shopping season will be better than the last.
That is good news for retailers and manufacturers, and good economic news for everybody.
Since the recession began in 2007 we have seen falling sales, or at best anemic spending on holiday purchases. When people are worried about their jobs and the future, one of the first things they do is pull back on buying. It is prudent, yet also hurtful to the overall economy.
Consumer spending is more than two-thirds of all economic activity. When purchasing slows, it initiates a downward spiral that is difficult to pull out of. That is why it is very good news to see a marked increase this holiday season.
It will benefit all of us economically —now and in the future.
Increased consumer spending used to mean benefits to our schools. However, with a recent budget law and plans for further revenue changes, benefits to our schools may be in doubt.
Every penny of the state sales tax is currently earmarked for education. That means when you buy a toy for a child or grandchild, you are also helping to fund that child’s schooling.
Earmarking state sales tax to education is as old as the levy itself. Back in the 1930s, when the state came close to bankruptcy during the Great Depression, a penny state sales tax was passed so teachers could be paid and schoolhouses kept open.
Each time another penny was added — up to four by 1940 — it was always earmarked for education.
Everybody wants to know exactly where their hard-earned money is going. Dedicating the sales tax to classrooms ensures that it is used for good purposes. Earmarking also reduces the chances that precious tax dollars will be squandered, or worse stolen, by unscrupulous politicians.
Looking at recent history and a string of scandals, placing large unfettered piles of money at the disposal of officeholders is not a wise thing.
Yet, there are stirrings that legislative leaders will push to stop earmarking the state sales tax and take it away from education.
This would be wrong on many levels, not the least of which being that education has already lost so much in the downturn. Today, we spend almost 20 percent less on schools than we did at the start of the recession.
We haven’t bought textbooks in years, and this year we terminated thousands of teachers.
Removing some or all of the state sales tax from the Education Trust Fund will be a further blow to our children’s future.
Even without diverting funds, the new GOP majority will cut the education budget next year, thanks to a law they passed called the Education Trust Fund Rolling Reserve Act.
The new law puts an artificial ceiling on the state education budget based on yearly averages. The past four years have been some of the worst in recent history, and their arbitrary budget law now locks in those bad times for years to come.
The Rolling Reserve Act will force a $108 million cut to schools next year, regardless of how well the economy rebounds. All the improvement, including a better holiday season, will not benefit schools in the near future, if at all.
Democrats understand you can’t rob Peter to pay Paul. We will oppose diverting education funding for other purposes.
We oppose hurting today’s students for some abstract budget theory or to uphold a party position.
It is great that the economy is rebounding. We should make sure that holiday cheer is shared where it always has been – with our schools.

Johnny Mack Morrow is a state representative for Franklin County. His column appears each week.

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