Budget Cuts to be Felt by Alabama Schools

Alabama schools can expect some back-to-basics cutbacks because of the state's budget crisis. Superintendent of Education Ed Richardson says some school systems may have to cut the school day to six hours next year and offer only required courses.

The budget crunch is to blame, worst in the last 50 years, Richardson told the Governor's Commission on Education Spending Friday. Governor Riley organized the commission last spring to recommend changes in the way Alabama operates its education system. He reactivated the commission after his tax package failed to win voter approval last month.

Assistant State Finance Director Bill Newton said the state will be looking at a 285 million dollar shortfall for the 2004-05 school year.

Richardson says he'll discuss cost-saving measures when the state board holds a work session Thursday. He could ask that schools charge for extracurricular activities. He says in some states a student must pay 150 dollars to play football and similar fees for other sports and activities, such as cheerleading and band.

Richardson expects the state budget cuts will widen the gap between the "haves" and the "have nots" and be "absolutely devastating" to poor systems. In Lowndes County, which has a poverty rate nearly twice the state average, electives can't be offered without state support. The amount saved by eliminating sports and electives would vary among school systems.

Sally Howell, assistant executive director of the Alabama Association of School Boards, says one option would be elimination of free bus service and textbooks. Also, school systems could treat those as they do lunches, using a sliding scale based on parents' ability to pay.

Alabama Associated Press