The Cullman Times
Alabama is faced with a critical decision concerning education.
Advocates of early childhood education are asking for another expansion of the state’s pre-kindergarten program for 4-year-olds. Gov. Robert Bentley has not revealed how much more funding he intends ahead of the Legislature convening Jan. 14.
The Alabama School Readiness Alliance and other groups are seeking an increase of $12.8 million for the upcoming school year. An increase of that amount would add 2,000 children to the nearly 5,500 served by the state’s voluntary program.
Bentley worked with the Legislature to add $9.4 million to the program, which boosted total funding for the 2013-2014 school year to $28 million.
Advocates for the program point to a study released last showing early education programs of all types in Alabama serve 53 percent of the children up to age 5 and carry an economic impact of $567 million. But even more important is a report from the Public Affairs Research Council that shows students in the pre-kindergarten program academically outperformed their peers once they reached elementary school.
For Alabama, the need is real where pre-school education is concerned. Bringing children into elementary school better equipped to handle academic challenges is what the state needs. The problem is that dollars are scarce for education and other services in Alabama.
The problem with funding education and services under the General Fund is that the tax structure in Alabama is antiquated. The continued reliance on fluctuating sales tax has long been an issue for establishing reliable education funding.
A re-examination of the tax structure, with emphasis placed on ad valorem taxes, would go a long way toward providing more stable funding for key programs. This is a challenge the governor and legislators should accept and move forward with in the new session.