Working to improve public education in Alabama for the last fifty years has been one of the great challenges of my life. I believe in our public education system and the children it serves.
So as we fast approach a special session of the Legislature called by Governor Bentley to address a funding shortfall for Medicaid, it is absolutely critical we seek a solution that doesn’t divert funds from our public school system. And if anyone tries, I will use all the rules and procedures at my disposal to protect our children’s future.
The efforts of many across our state have advanced Alabama from the bottom of education spending charts. Alabama has continually reaped the benefits of this important work: we are seeing higher graduation rates, better test scores, and have the best Pre-K program in the nation. Now is not the time to pull the wind from our sails. Remember, we have only just started to recover from the 2008 Great Recession.
There are quite a few plans floating around to solve Medicaid’s $85 million deficit, including a lottery supported by Governor Bentley.
Another plan under consideration is the “Two-Step Method,” which involves merging the Education Trust Fund and the General Fund, and then distributing the revenues along a fixed 76%-24% split. This approach is shortsighted, misguided, and lacks the courage that will be necessary to solve Medicaid’s woes.
Exposing our Education budget to the pressures of funding Medicaid, a program managed by bureaucrats in Washington D.C. with little input from Alabama’s leaders, would be absolutely catastrophic. We would be essentially surrendering our educational future to the unfunded federal mandates of Medicaid. We must keep our Education Trust Fund budget isolated, protected, and well-funded.
I am not ignoring the clear fact that Alabama is facing a serious crisis in the General Fund budget. Because of the $85 million shortfall for 2017, Medicaid already has had to significantly reduce its service offerings. The cuts started on August 1st, hitting pediatricians throughout the state especially hard. The reduction in preventative services covered by Medicaid will mean more people going to hospitals, which will raise the cost of healthcare.
But merging the Education and General Fund budgets is the not the answer to our current Medicaid crisis. If we combine the two budgets, we jeopardize both the healthcare of our children and their education. We have patched over our state’s systemic budget problems for many years now, but now there remain no more one-time solutions.
It is time for leadership. It is not acceptable to continue to have our children carry the burden and pay for a lack of political will.
In the special session starting August 15th, we must work together to find a long-term solution that doesn’t sacrifice our future: the children of our great state.
Gerald Dial represents District 13 in the Alabama Senate, which includes all or parts of Randolph, Lee, Cleburne, Clay, Cherokee, and Chambers counties. He serves as Chairman of the Senate Health & Human Services Committee.