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Investing in education creates employment

Published 8:00am Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A key solution to Alabama unemployment can be summed up in one word: education.

It is the path to prosperity and sustainable job growth, today and in the future. Alabama Democrats have a plan to make sure schools are supported and jobs are created.

State history shows that when we invest in education, the standard of living improves and job creation flourishes. At the turn of the 20th century, fewer than one in twelve Alabamians finished high school. It made sense in an economy where the young were needed on the farm, or when a kid could drop out school and walk into the textile plant down the road.

By 1940, close to half of all 18-year-olds got a high school diploma. After World War II, the GI Bill helped thousands of these Alabama high school graduates go on to college. This surge in educational attainment laid the foundation for a huge increase in living standards.

By 2000, per capita income, adjusted for inflation, was more than five times larger than it had been in 1900. As the education level rose, so did the state economy and individual prosperity.

Yet at the beginning of this century, Republicans are turning us away from the winning formula of investing in education. There is a very real possibility we may invest less in this generation of children than we did in the last. Shortchanging these children not only hurts their future, it most likely will damage our state’s economy and competitiveness down the road.

We need to invest in education today, for jobs it creates immediately and for future economic benefits. It is at the core of the jobs package Alabama House Democrats are going to push for in the next Legislative session.

Our schools have lost more than 4,000 teachers since the downturn began in 2007. In this school year alone there was a reduction of more than 1,100 teachers in the state education budget. Such losses mean more students are crowded into fewer classrooms.

We know that class size makes a difference in the education, with smaller numbers allowing teachers that critical one-on-one time so often needed with students having difficulties in reading and math.

Democrats are sponsoring a bill that will sharply reduce class size in schools. Reducing class size will re-employ thousands of teachers, and attract some new people to the profession. These are good paying jobs that impact every community in the state.

To pay for more teachers, Democrats are proposing the “Corporate Welfare Act” of 2012, closing some of the worst corporate loopholes in the antiquated Alabama tax code. Some billion-dollar corporations doing business in Alabama pay nothing to fund schools while hard working people pay their fair share. How can you call that anything but corporate welfare? Every penny of funding raised by closing loopholes is earmarked for the classroom.

Yet even if we set smaller class sizes and raise funds to hire more teachers by closing loopholes, we still can’t hire those teachers. Republicans last session passed a measure that mandates all increased revenues get stashed away. It was called the Rolling Reserve Act, and it locks in for a decade all the cuts made during the downturn, creating a slush fund that could reach into the billions. Recently, Gov. Bentley noted their act triggers an automatic cut of $108 million in next year’s school budget, regardless of revenue.

Democrats know shortchanging an entire generation of students is wrong. That is why we are sponsoring the “Repeal the Rolling Reserve Act,” making sure we take care of students today and tomorrow.

Investing in education and creating thousands of teaching jobs will reduce unemployment today and create better prosperity tomorrow. It is a common sense plan, and Democrats are ready to fight for it.

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

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