Wednesday, the Alabama House Ways and Means Education committee approved a bill to provide an additional $1.3 billion in funding for the current school year, bringing fiscal year 2022 funding to nearly $9 billion dollars.
If the supplemental appropriation bill becomes law, education funding will have grown by over one-third in just three years. That’s historic growth, regardless of which party controlled the legislature.
The question is what are you and the students of this state getting for your money? And make no mistake, it’s your money. The Education Trust Fund (ETF) had a $1.3 billion balance at the start of 2022. That balance represents too much taxes being taken from you. If you overpay on your federal tax return, you get a refund. Apparently, if you overpay the state of Alabama, the money is used to expand government.
Over half of the additional 2022 funding will be used for one-time capital and technology projects. The state received $4.5 billion for education through three federal COVID-19 relief bills. Many of the projects funded through this supplemental bill would already be eligible for stimulus money. Instead, lawmakers are using money out of your pocket.
On top of the supplemental bill, the committee passed an $8.160 billion ETF budget for fiscal year 2023, half a billion dollars more than the 2022 enacted budget and the fourth consecutive record expansion of government education spending.
In 2010, Alabama was spending just over $5 billion annually on education. In 2022 it’s on pace to spend $9 billion. Billions in additional funding has not translated into better results in the classroom. Math scores have gotten worse over the last decade, falling to dead last among states in the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress.
Without offering any structural reforms, why do lawmakers think that continuing to dump more money into education will have a different result? The supplemental appropriation bill and latest budget proposal are the continuation of a losing strategy. It’s not helping students. It’s not giving parents who want their children to receive the best education possible new options to achieve that goal.
Instead of throwing more money at the education budget and hoping things will change, lawmakers should look to reforms that could have an immediate impact on the quality of education in Alabama.
As introduced, the Parents Choice Act would have allowed parents the freedom to determine what type of learning environment best suits their child. And parents and children would have been more invested in the educational process. The prospects of those meaningful reforms happening this session are now uncertain at best.
The ETF’s surplus is also an opportunity to provide needed tax relief to the citizens of Alabama.
But over halfway through the legislative session, lawmakers have only debated $200 million in targeted tax cuts. Targeted means that many of us will see no benefit from them. And nearly half of the “tax cuts” are from not taxing federal pandemic benefits given to Alabamians. Money that wasn’t the state government's to tax anyway.
Repealing the state’s grocery tax would help nearly every person in Alabama, especially given recent increases in food prices. Ending the state business privilege tax would help small businesses still recovering from the pandemic and government-mandated shutdowns that came with it. There are numerous options available, but an apparent lack of desire from the legislature to pursue them.
Lawmakers have an unprecedented chance to use the largest budget surplus in state history and billions of dollars in federal aid to enact laws that will improve the lives of all citizens for years to come. Unfortunately, it looks like they will choose to continue to feed the beast that is government, whether it fixes any problems or not.
Justin Bogie serves as Senior Director of Fiscal Policy at the Alabama Policy Institute. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to: [email protected].