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A TALE OF TWO STATES: Alabama and Oregon Head in Opposite Directions in Funding Education

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"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…"

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” With states collectively facing the worst budget crisis since World War II, most state officials think they’re facing the worst of times. Two states, Alabama and Oregon, are examples of how states are choosing different methods for dealing with the education issue. In soundly defeating Alabama Gov. Bob Riley’s (R) tax referendum, Alabama’s citizens have chosen a road that leads to cuts in funding for textbooks, teacher professional development, and other school-related items. Oregon lawmakers, however, chose the road less traveled and approved a 13 percent increase in education funding. The increase will be paid for in part by a $792 million tax increase that is part of the $11.6 billion state budget for fiscal years 2004 and 2005.

Without Tax Increases, Alabama Forced to Cut Education Programs

Less than a month after the defeat of his tax referendum, Alabama Gov. Riley signed a new budget that increases education funding by $12 million (1 percent) to $2.91 billion. The move left many educators pondering what might have been had the tax referendum been successful. Instead of an extra $1.2 billion, much of which would have been designated for education programs, Alabama’s new budget included a $36.8 million cut (88 percent) in funding for new textbooks as well as a complete elimination of funding for teacher professional development and school technology. By tapping into a rainy-day fund, the state was able to postpone laying-off teachers and support staff for now, but it may have to revisit the issue during the next school year.

Oregon Raises Taxes for Education, Voter Referendum Still a Possibility

After a record-breaking 227-day legislative session, Gov. Theodore R. Kulongoski (D) and Oregon lawmakers were able to come to agreement on a state budget that provided a significant increase for education programs. For fiscal years 2004 and 2005, K-12 education programs will receive $5.2 billion, a $600 million increase. For Gov. Kulongoski, who was opposed to a tax increase in January, the bill was the only way to avoid a shortened school year and painful cuts in valuable programs. “I signed this bill as a last resort, because I am committed to providing all of Oregon’s children with a full school year.”

Oregon’s schoolchildren, however, are not completely out of the woods yet. Opponents of the tax increase are trying to force a referendum that would allow state voters to decide on the tax-hike legislation in February. Tax opponents would need to gather 50,420 signatures by Nov. 25 to put the referendum on the ballot. If voters were to repeal the tax measure, the state budget would lose approximately $550 million in revenue. Of that total, over $400 million would come from education programs.

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