State Superintendent Warns Local Leaders of Grim Financial Outlook

A continued bleak economic outlook and the loss of revenues due to last summer’s oil spill, is having a devastating impact on Alabama’s education budget, and State School Superintendent Dr. Joe Morton said he and his staff are carefully scrutinizing all options to address the problem.

Two scenarios under discussion, he said, include reducing the number of school days for both teachers and students, and changing the formula for allocating the number of teachers a district receives, which will most likely result in some teacher and staff layoffs.

In addition to the strain of a weak and only slowly recovering economy, Alabama schools next year will lose $179 million in federal stimulus funds that state finance officials say can not be replaced.

Morton’s concerns were outlined in a recent memo to local superintendents which followed his appearance before the House and Senate budget committees where several news articles reported Morton saying that, without an increase from the Education Trust Fund, Alabama schools will likely employ 1,000 fewer teachers and reduce teacher work days.

In fighting for adequate funding, Morton said his first priority will be to maintain the current funding split between K-12 and Higher Education, which this year gives K-12 schools 69.7 percent of the education appropriation. Although Morton said Higher Education has asked for a greater percentage of the funds, the loss of even 1 percent would cost K-12 $53 million.

The second priority, Morton said, will be to try to replace the $179 million in stimulus money that expires this year, but state budget officials are not optimistic.

Although Gov. Robert Bentley will wait until February tax receipts are in to make a call on education budget proration, Finance Director David Perry and Legislative Fiscal Office Director Joyce Bigbee said school budgets would have been prorated in February – estimating would-be cuts of 4.0 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively – if a decision had been required this month.