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House passes record bond issue for school construction

By Staff
Rep. Ronald Grantland, Guest Columnist
There is no doubt that the most important issue in our state is the education of our children. We tell our children that education is paramount and necessary for success. However, every day thousands of children in our state go to school in trailers. Thousands more attend school in decrepit old buildings with leaky roofs and antiquated heating and cooling systems.
Currently Alabama is using more than 1300 trailers as classrooms, and there are school buildings in need of repair or expansion in every county of the state. The State Board of Education estimates that in the next few years, Alabama will need to spend nearly $4 billion for upgrades, upkeep and new school buildings.
How can we stress the importance of education to our children without providing them an adequate place to learn?
In response, the House of Representatives approved a bond issue of more than $1 billion to provide building funds for every public school system in the state. It now is in the Senate and, if passed, the bond issue will be the largest school construction-spending program in our state’s history.
There’s no denying that the quality of our school buildings matter. Many counties, especially rural counties, have difficulty raising money for school construction. The House version of the bond issue contains a formula recognizing that poorer districts need a little more help. Money is allocated based on the number of students and the amount of local funding available. There is also a $15 million supplemental appropriation for schools in the black belt counties, the poorest area of the state.
The bond issue also includes extra money for schools affected by disasters, especially the Enterprise schools recently destroyed by a tornado.
While 75 percent of the $1 billion will go towards K-12 schools, the bond issue will provide construction funds for every public four-year and two-year college in the state. It also provides additional money for research at UAB, the University of Alabama and Auburn.
Numerous districts haven’t had school construction in many years; there generally just isn’t enough money in our budgets. The state education budget is usually tight because our constitution doesn’t allow us to borrow money to pay for the ordinary expenses of public education. What we can borrow, however, is money for school construction. For example, people don’t usually borrow money to pay light and water bills, but they do borrow money to build a new house. Similarly, why should we pay to build new schools at once?
The bond essentially acts as a mortgage. School systems will be able to buy bonds from the state, and the state pays the bonds back over time. Fortunately, the fiscal health of our state gives us the highest credit rating in the nation. This makes the interest on the bonds the lowest that the market will give. Just like a family’s financial practices, good state fiscal practices pay off in the long run.
However, the bond legislation must still pass the Senate, which may not be an easy task. Bills are beginning to move through the upper house, but neither budget has passed yet. With few legislative days left in the regular session, the future of the bond issue remains uncertain at best.
I urge you to call your Senator and voice your support for this issue. The bond issue is right for many people across our state. Providing adequate school facilities for the next generation of Alabamians is one of the most important things we can do as a Legislature. It will be a travesty if this issue fails to pass.

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