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The gulf disaster threatens our coast and our schools

The BP oil disaster in the Gulf continues to threaten Alabama’s coastline. Brown globs of crude are washing ashore in various places. For the first time, the double red flags went up on the beaches indicating the water was not safe to enter.
Cancellations on rentals and hotels have increased. Even though local officials have kept people informed that the beaches and other attractions are open, there is a heavy downturn in tourists.
Meanwhile, the shrimping boats in Bon Secour and Bayou LaBatre for the most part are idle. Some have work hauling booms out in the gulf to try and corral the oncoming oil. Charter boats are left tied to the dock now that fishing has been suspended in Alabama waters.
Our seafood industry, worth hundreds of millions is now suspended.
It is becoming clear that the spill in the gulf is the worst disaster to befall our coast. It is worse than any hurricane, including Camille and Ivan, and worse than just about anything imaginable. It is shutting down much of southwest Alabama’s economy, and that will have tremendous impact on our entire state.
Recently, the State Superintendent of Education Dr. Joe Morton held a press conference and outlined another victim of the oil spill: Alabama’s schoolchildren.
He outlined that the BP nightmare in the Gulf of Mexico is having and will continue to have a negative effect on the Education Trust Fund (ETF). The ETF accounts for sixty percent of education spending in the state, and for many of our local school systems it is even a greater percentage. We pay for everything from teacher salaries to textbooks by the ETF, and now as the oil plumes loom they threaten the fund itself.
The ETF gains most of its revenue from two earmarked sources: the state sales and income taxes. Every penny collected by these taxes goes directly into the ETF, and it is used to support all education efforts from kindergarten to our medical schools.
Morton outlined that as the chief education official in the state, he will work to hold BP accountable for its damage to education funding.
“Because of the BP tragedy and the corresponding loss of ETF revenues so far, plus the anticipated growing loss of revenues, I am declaring that I will charge BP with restoring the revenues lost so far as well as future lost revenues to the ETF,” wrote Morton in his press release. “I will enlist economic experts outside the Department of Education to work with [state officials] to develop an irrefutable economic model of lost revenues to the ETF per month and send BP a bill.”
Morton noted that if BP refutes or rebuffs the economic data that Alabama develops about the negative impact of the spill, he will go to court and fight to make them pay.
The BP disaster comes at a difficult time for education. We have already endured two years of proration. Now it is very possible that at a time when education revenue was finally rebounding that BP’s negligence and profit before safety mentality could send us into proration again.
Morton should be applauded for his first steps in holding BP accountable.
In the meantime, we look on with sadness and anger as more oil drifts towards our coast, impacting not only the precious and fragile ecosystems of our coast, but Alabama’s schools as well.
We will make BP pay.