Thursday, September 19, 2013
By a new era, I do not mean a forward looking or an improved era. I mean an era the state has not seen in decades. I mean an era that resembles the days before Brown v. Board of Education. LaJuana's post this morning contained a lot of news on Alabama, but the piece that struck me the most was the enormous decline in support for its schools and the push to amend its constitution in a not so good way.
My comparison to pre-Brown days is not meant to suggest that Alabama wishes to resegregate its schools--although I doubt race is irrelevant to the moves afoot in the state. It is a comparison to stark educational deprivation and inequality. The level of educational defunding in Alabama is mind-boggling and threatens to push the poorest and neediest schools--if not the entire state--into a class of their own, whose deprivations cannot be rivaled anywhere else in the country. On top of that, many wish to strip children of their constitutional right to education, something unheard of and unspeakable in this country for some time.
After accounting for inflation, the Center on Budget Priorities Report reveals a $1,200 decline in per pupil expenditures in Alabama between fiscal years 2008 and 2014. To put this number in local perspective, it amounts to a 20% decline in funding in Alabama. In other words, 1 out of 5 education dollars in the state is gone, or the money for 1 out of 5 children has vanished. To put this number in national perspective, in 2006, the Education Trust reported a national funding gap between the highest and lowest poverty districts of $1,300 per pupil. So in comparison, Alabama's funding shortfall turns the entire state into a similarly underfunded subclass. No matter where a student lives in the state, he or she might reasonably be treated as a poverty class that trails the rest of the nation. Moreover, these cuts come on top of the fact that Alabama already had one of the lowest per pupil expenditures in the nation, and distributed those funds among school districts in one of the most regressive ways in the nation. See School Funding Fairness Report. In short, awful is getting much worse in Alabama. In a high poverty, regressively funded school district in a state with an educational system in a subclass of its own, a new era of educational deprivation not seen in decades is a serious risk.While this may be news to those outside Alabama, it is an obvious reality to those living there and many want to do something about it. The cruel irony is that what "they" want to do is amend the Alabama constitution to take away children's right to an education so that they cannot complain about it. As LaJuana wrote this morning, there is a perennial move to amend the state constitution to remove its mandate of segregated schools (which was obviously constitutionally void following Brown v. Board of Education). But this time included in the amendment proposal is the language "nothing in this Section shall create any judicially enforceable right or obligation." Under the guise of taking down an historical relic of racially unequal education, they would erect a new barrier to quality education.
Every state in the country has a constitutional clause guaranteeing the right to education. While some courts have interpreted those clauses to not create a private cause of action, more have interpretted them to create enforceable rights. Moreover, no state constitution explicitly denies children the right to enforce the clause, and no state constitution deliberately attempts to make the right to education meaningless. The only remotely comparable example is from Florida where its state supreme court had rejected a constitutional right to education claim. The voters response there was to amend their constitution. But the result was to strenghten, not weaken, their constitution's treatment of education.