Holiday spending helps schools in need

By Staff
Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow
Economists tell us that the nation is pulling itself out of the recession, and that the economy is growing for the first time since 2007. There are hopeful signs for 2010, and we seem to have avoided the worst in a financial and economic collapse as bad as anything since the Great Depression.
It is cold comfort to the thousands of Alabamians who have lost their jobs in the downturn. Unemployment in our state is at a two-decade high, and the economic rebound means nothing unless people get back to work.
Let us hope that the measures taken by the administration that averted catastrophe continue to strengthen the job market.
We have seen some indicators that things are getting better here. Last year, all of the major auto plants in the state cut back on hours, and some even eliminated shifts.
Now, all those assembly lines are back up and running full shifts, though producing not quite as many cars as before. Still, it is a very hopeful sign for folks in the plant and people employed in supplier companies across the state.
Economists are now looking at the holiday shopping season as the next indicator for how the economy will do in 2010. It is a tough equation they are asking for, wanting consumers to spend more money at a time when families are hurting or concerned about the future.
That is the hazard of relying on consumer spending as a big part of the economy-when there is trouble, people pull back spending, and a downward spiral begins.
Right now it looks to be a better season than last year, and let's hope it goes well, not only for the retailers, but also for our schools.
The problem with consumer spending in the overall economy is mirrored in the state education budget.
Without an upturn in the spending of Alabama families, our schools will continue to feel the pinch. All state sales taxes are earmarked solely for education.
Along with the earmarked state income tax, approximately 80 percent of all Alabama education revenue comes from these two sources. Most states rely on relatively stable property taxes to fund schools. However, Alabama chose a different path, electing to have the lowest property taxes in the nation, and the lowest taxes overall.
The problem with relying on sales and income taxes to fund schools is that they are most susceptible to economic downturns, and that is what we have unfortunately seen. Since the start of the recession, we have had back-to-back years of proration.
The cuts have been so deep that Alabama schools will see $1.4 billion less this year than just two years ago.
So regardless of what economists are hoping for, every teacher in this state is hoping for a better holiday shopping season so schools can buy textbooks and classroom supplies, two items eliminated in the budget.
Every time you go the checkout line at a local store or shop, you'll know that every penny of state sales tax, and much of the local sales tax, will go to help schools.
And if the giving spirit moves you to do so, schools accept direct supply donations of items like copy paper, pencils, paints, and books.
Communities across the state have found ways to raise needed school supplies through the generous acts of citizens. Legislators have been working for every grant and dollar possible to send to local schools to make up the shortfall.
Call your local school or system office to find out what materials they can take and what they may very much need. By giving to schools you not only make a teacher's holiday season bright, but also the many children in the classroom as well.
Now that is a way to spread some holiday cheer.
Johnny Mack Morrow is a state representative for Franklin County. His column appears each Wednesday.