Forget the eternal argument in Alabama about the state Constitution’s reluctance to guarantee Alabama children a free education. In theory, the American public school model is both simplistic and fair.
Children go to public school for free.
But we know that education is not free in the literal sense. Quality education requires money — for school buildings, for teachers’ salaries, for educational programs, for bus service and even athletic equipment. And in a nation in which all school systems are not created equal, that requirement creates shortcomings too obvious to ignore.
Last week, The Star’s Laura Gaddy explained how leaders in Jacksonville are quietly seeking private donations as part of the Jacksonville Educational Trust, a foundation created to assist that city’s public schools.
Though its schools are considered some of Calhoun County’s best, Jacksonville is not immune to fiscal scarcity. Superintendent Jon Paul Campbell wants classes such as art and music introduced into Jacksonville’s schools. Today, tax revenue to cover those additions doesn’t exist.
With the Jacksonville Educational Trust’s help, those classes could become part of the Jacksonville curriculum in the future. State Rep. K.L. Brown, R-Jacksonville, who is involved with the trust, told The Star that the program is already waiting to collect 70 percent of its goal. (The legislator also said trust organizers “want to keep things as confidential as possible” for now, which keeps its efforts shrouded unnecessarily from the Jacksonville families who may benefit from its services.)
This behind-the-scenes endeavor, along with similar foundations in Oxford and Anniston, is an example of what Alabamians often see as the logical fix for a state Legislature that historically funds public education on the cheap. That sad tale is part of Alabama’s legacy.
In this sense, Jacksonville is fortunate; it is a college town with a sizeable portion of its population committed to the value of education due to their association — through employment, in many cases — with Jacksonville State University.
Unfortunately, Jacksonville is an outlier among Alabama cities. For every Jacksonville there is an Ohatchee — small towns with marginal revenue sources. There is, however, no difference in the children in these places. They are Alabamians, and as such deserve the best public education the state can provide.
Alas, there is no perfect world. If there were, Alabama’s schools wouldn’t have to often rely on donations and private fund-raising trusts to provide students with anything above the basics of the three R’s.
Count this as another illustration of the effects Montgomery’s miserliness has throughout the state.