Kay's Answer: You deserve to get every penny's worth of service and value for every tax dollar you pay. That's especially important when that money is for the purpose of educating our children. But, I'm sad to say, it's not happening.
That's because too much of the money designated for education funding never reaches your local classroom. In fact, more than 40 percent of it is snatched away by administrative overhead, bureaucracy and special projects that have little effect on how well our students perform.
As the only former school teacher in the race for Governor, I can't stand to watch your hard-earned tax dollars go to non-priorities instead of essentials. Rather than buying up-to-date textbooks, computer software, lab materials and other learning tools, your money is squandered on bloated salaries and benefits for education bureaucrats.
Again, the problem can be highlighted by the decreasing share of education funds actually reaching the classroom. According to the National Center for Education Statistics and the American Legislative Exchange Council, Alabama's instruction expenditures have fallen by two-and-a-half percent in the last 10 years. That adds up to more than $100 million of funding that our students aren't getting (some estimates calculate it could even be as high as $140 million).
Think about that $100 million dollars for a minute. That's about $135 for each of the 742,000 students in Alabama's public schools. If that doesn't sound like a lot of money, just ask your children's teachers what they could do with an extra $2,025 for their classes which average 15 students per teacher!
* To solve this problem, we must drastically reduce administrative overhead, get rid of duplicate and antiquated programs, and shrink the size of Alabama's education bureaucracy.
It's time to decide what gets priority for our tax dollars: education bureaucrats, or classroom teachers and students. Realizing as I do that an informed and educated workforce is absolutely essential to the economic future of our state, I will side as governor with our students and teachers.
The Benefit To You:
Eliminating outdated and unnecessary programs, plus shrinking the education bureaucracy, would generate more than $100 million in extra money for classroom instruction for our students. As a taxpayer or a parent, you would receive the benefit of your tax dollars being better spent on our students as a worthy investment in this state's future.
Education funding - part 2
Kay's Answer: According to a 2008 report by the Alabama Policy Institute, our state is above-average when it comes to teacher quality and pay, curriculum, and graduation requirements.
Unfortunately, all that hasn't translated into better education for our children. Alabama remains below average in standardized test scores and high school graduation rates, and many of those who do graduate still need remedial education if and when they go to college.
Rather than fund Alabama's public education system on the whims of politicians, we must fund it to achieve learning results and high academic standards at every grade.
Here's how we do it:
* Ask the teachers, principals, parents, students and business community the same question: "What should be done to improve student learning at high standards?"
* Find the answers that are shared by several of these groups, and prioritize them. If, for example, "having merit-based pay for teachers" is the number-one answer, focus on that goal first.
* Make sure we reduce wasteful spending on administrative overhead so more dollars actually reach the classroom.
* Ensure that competition has a role. My proposal to bring Charter Schools to Alabama would be a great start (See my answers from Day 1 and 2). Charter Schools would be granted the latitude, within defined expectations and standards of parents, teachers and community/business leaders, to do things that the current system will not and does not. We have to be innovative as we move forward to compete with countries around the world. Local competition among our public schools will inspire innovation, progress and better results.
Remember: you can't buy a quality education system. But we can work together to take the best ideas with the right priorities to create it.
The Benefit To You:
In a time of limited education resources, every dollar must be spent wisely to achieve the best results for students, families, and the community. With high standards, effective priorities and more competition, your kids and our students will accomplish more educational achievement.
Education: High School Dropout Rates
Kay's Answer: According to Education Week magazine, in 2007, almost 40% of Alabama's high school students dropped out before graduating. Think about it this way: that's the same as an entire classroom of 29 students dropping out every day! It's a tragedy for the students who leave school without getting a diploma, and it's harmful to our state, too.
Social data has shown that dropouts are more likely to be arrested, be unemployed, and receive welfare assistance than those who graduate from high school. Guess who winds up footing the bill for all of that? We taxpayers.
And, because most other states have higher graduation rates than Alabama, they may be better able to recover more quickly from economic recessions. Essentially, a high dropout rate creates a "drag" effect on our economic rebound.
This type of academic self-destruction must end. To help solve our dropout problem, we ought to pursue what former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich has proposed:
Parents must have the right to pick the best school for their child. No child should be trapped in a failing school.
We must have Charter Schools in Alabama. There should be no limit on the number of them that can be established, as long as their curricula are in line with state standards and assessments.
We need merit pay to reward innovative teachers who produce high-achieving students.
We must open up our classrooms to allow part-time teachers with real-world experience--like pharmacists, accountants, and business leaders--to teach our children about what the business world expects of them when they graduate.
Not every child will make it to a traditional four-year college or university. Yet, our educational system is geared towards college preparation. We need to open up new frontiers to students who are interested in technical or vocational areas of study. If a child gets directed earlier to his or her interest in robotics, computer graphics, mechanics, culinary, etc., then he or she is less likely to depart school prematurely.
Finally, early graduation programs should be considered to allow students that learn at a faster pace the opportunity to "test out" of their junior or senior high school years. In return, those who graduate early could be given college scholarships equal to what the state would have spent on them.
The costs that dropouts inflict on society are terrible. The cost to the individual teenager who squanders his or her future by making a bad choice is immeasurable. By helping students stay in school, we help them - and we help our state, too.
The Benefit to You: You would live in a safer, more prosperous community where more of its citizens are self-reliant, self-sustaining and productive. "A rising tide lifts all boats!"
Education: Higher Tuition Costs
Kay's Answer: Your daughter and her friends at her community college are not the only ones that are hurting when it comes to paying for their higher education. Four-year college costs have also been rising at a rate far faster than inflation.
If this trend continues, the average cost of tuition at a major university like Alabama or Auburn will pass $10,000 within 5 years, making college less affordable for more and more Alabamians.
One innovative way to make college more affordable would be to give grants to every full-time, in-state student at any college or university in Alabama. Here's how it would work:
Beginning in the 2011-2012 school year, the lump sum that the State of Alabama earmarks for its public colleges would go directly to fund full-time undergraduates in the form of grants.
Students would receive approximately $8,000 per year if they enroll full-time at a four-year school, or about $5,000 if they enroll at a two-year college.
The other revenue that public colleges and universities currently receive from tuition and fees, as well as local, state and federal grants for capital and special projects, private gifts and grants, and endowment revenue would remain intact.
By giving college grants directly to students, students could afford a wider variety of schools, and Alabama's higher education program would become more efficient. And, because students could use their grant at any institution, colleges and universities would have big incentives to keep costs down.
This kind of program is already at work in Colorado, where schools there are saving between $7,000 and $14,000 per student every year.
The Benefit to You: Going to college would be more affordable for our students and families, and individuals would have more choices in pursuing a college education.
When a public school in Alabama is not producing successful students or is having trouble handling its finances, the state has the authority to step in and provide resources.
Education experts in our state can point to case after case where poorly performing schools have been turned around by having principals with successful track records come to help the local leadership and teachers for a semester or two. The visiting principal would not replace the existing leadership, only provide advice and help to them and their teachers.
To help Alabama's failing schools perform better, I propose the following:
We need to identify our state's best, most effective principals and teachers. Then we should offer them financial incentives, like a raise in pay or bonuses, along with certified recognition of their "elite" status. After providing these individuals with additional training, we would create specialized academic "response teams" who would be assigned to specific schools that need their help and guidance the most. Their expertise could be assisted by utilizing online or web-based learning technologies, education-based software, and greater reading and math initiatives.
* No one, necessarily, has to be replaced or fired; instead, everyone--principals, students, and teachers alike--learns together, and the school experiences a turnaround.
How you would benefit:
By identifying and sending in our best educational leaders to help turn around failing schools, Alabama's children have a better chance at receiving a top-notch education.
Technical education benefits
Kay's Answer: Yes! Technology is changing every aspect of society, including career choices. So we must change how we view education, too. Not every well-paying, satisfying career choice requires attending a traditional 4-year college. Instead of viewing technical schools as a place for kids who can't handle academics, we need to view it as the place where Alabama's 21st Century workforce is being prepared for tomorrow.
An excellent example of how private businesses are partnering with the state's public education system to create career-ready programs of study is the Alabama Industrial Development Training (AIDT). Time and again, it has been named the best of its kind in the nation. There is no cost to employers for AIDT's services and AIDT individually customizes a training program to fit a company's needs. Rather than have students drop out of school, the AIDT helps them explore technical careers that require minimal college training. Training services are offered in many areas, at no cost, to new and expanding businesses throughout the state.
To help students become aware of technical careers they might not know about, we should:
* Elevate the Workforce Development Office to a cabinet-level position in the Governor's Office.
* Get 2-year-college counselors to visit middle school campuses to expose students to technical careers. These visits can be used to introduce specific information about career opportunities in areas such as the construction sciences, engineering, aerospace, automotive, robotics, medical laboratories, manufacturing, etc. People who work in these fields could be brought into the schools to better explain their jobs and be available for question and answer sessions.
* Encourage greater "dual enrollment" which expand opportunities for high school students to enroll in either tech schools or traditional 4-year-colleges and receive dual academic credit.
An informed, educated workforce is the engine that drives our economy. Keeping our workforce on the technical cutting edge will increase Alabama's chances for attracting new jobs and expanding existing firms, too.
The Benefit To You:
When more people are working, Alabama's economy grows stronger. The state saves money in social costs when students stay in school instead of dropping out. A highly-trained, educated technical workforce also gives us a leg up on other states when we're competing to get new companies with more jobs to locate here.
Wallace-Folsom PACT Program
Kay's Answer: There was a lot of misunderstanding about the Wallace-Folsom Prepaid Affordable College Tuition program earlier this year. As State Treasurer I am also chairman of the PACT Board. I want you to know the program is meeting its obligations and has served almost 14,000 students. To date, every single PACT student has had his/her college tuition paid for. No contract has been denied.
The PACT fund was hit by two factors beyond anyone's control. First, college tuition has risen much higher than anticipated when the program was started nearly 20 years ago. And we all know about the collapse of the financial markets in late 2008 and early 2009. Both factors combined for a one-two punch to the fund's bottom line.
But not only is the Wallace-Folsom PACT fund still intact, things are looking brighter these days. The financial markets have been climbing upward recently, bringing the PACT fund along with it. While I'm careful to avoid spreading "irrational exuberance" over the current rebound, I am very pleased that the PACT fund is heading in a positive direction again.
Even so, it's critical to focus on solutions for PACT's future. That's why I favor cooperation among the PACT board, education leaders, and members of the legislature to find a long-term solution for PACT accountholders.
Here are the five "Guiding Principles" I have constructed as a framework for a solution:
1) Fairness: A solution must equally serve all eligible Wallace-Folsom PACT accountholders (currently estimated to be about 45,000 accountholders).
2) Solvency: A solution must preserve the fund's corpus to maximize future asset growth and fund stability.
3) Taxpayer Protection: No new tax or tax increases should be passed to prop up the PACT fund.
4) Prudence: No solution should include any draw-down, or raid, on the Alabama Trust Fund. Much of the revenue generated from the Alabama Trust Fund provides economic support for the state's general fund.
5) Pragmatism: And finally, the state must address the issue of rapidly escalating college tuition rates. This isn't suggested for PACT accountholders alone, but for the greater good of all college-bound students in Alabama.
Remember, you can always get the latest information on PACT at the State Treasurer's website, www.treasury.alabama.gov.
The Benefit to You: By working together, we can save this program that has served thousands of Alabama families so well.