Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush spoke Tuesday at a conference sponsored by his Foundation for Excellence in Education, and many Alabama lawmakers listened intently.
Bush has correctly diagnosed one of the most serious problems facing the nation.
“We have these huge gaps in income, with people born into poverty who will stay in poverty,” Bush said. “This ideal of who we are as a nation — it’s going away, it’s leaving us.”
Few would argue with the solution Bush proposes: improved education for all students, especially those living in poverty.
The details, though, raise concerns.
Many of Bush’s proposals involve giving taxpayer money to private companies. And no surprise, the prospective corporate beneficiaries contribute to Bush’s foundation and are lobbying Alabama lawmakers.
These corporate interests last year backed a law that requires the grading of all Alabama public schools from A to F. In Florida, a similar law now requires taxpayers to pay for vouchers allowing students in schools that received low grades to attend private schools.
Giving tax dollars to educational corporations is not an inherently bad idea. If public schools can’t get it done, then lawmakers are right to look at other options. Generational poverty is crippling Alabama, and innovative approaches may be necessary.
The first step, though, should be to provide public schools with the resources they need. State funding for K-12 schools this budget year is 21.7 percent below fiscal 2008 levels, the second steepest drop in the nation.
Alabama legislators can expect cynicism if their first step toward educational excellence involves giving tax money to private corporations with expensive lobbyists. The first step should be adequate funding of public schools, an experiment never tried in Alabama. If that does not work, bring on the lobbyists.