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Sen. Bill Armistead

Gov. Don Siegelman says he wants to change education in Alabama forever. Well, I agree with the Governor on this point, but I differ with him on the way it should be done.

For example, Gov. Siegelman says that he thinks the most pressing need in education in Alabama today is to provide free college tuition to college-bound students. I disagree and will elaborate on what I see as the priority below.

If providing free tuition to college students is the number one need in education, why have we not heard from the people of Alabama over the years crying out for this? Have high school graduates not been going to college because we did not have free college tuition? I don't think so.

There are currently plenty of scholarships and grants available for every young person who really wants to go to college in Alabama. And, there are also plenty of jobs where they could work their way through college, as many of us had to do.

Gov. Siegelman is asking voters to change the Alabama Constitution on October 12 to allow the state to get into the gambling business so he can establish a lottery in Alabama. He wants the proceeds from the lottery to pay for college tuition for every student in Alabama. These scholarships would not be based on need, but would be available to everyone - even the very rich. Well, almost everyone. The poor, who receive a Pell grant, would not be eligible to get the scholarship according to Siegelman's plan.

Some people are misguided into thinking that the lottery will provide a free college "education". The only thing the lottery is suppose to provide is free "tuition" which is only about one-third the cost of going to college. The student, or family, would still have to come up with the remaining two-thirds.

For the most part, the students who would receive the free tuition from Siegelman's lottery are the ones who would be going to college anyway, and paying their own way. So, what do we gain by having a state sponsored lottery in Alabama? Nothing good. In fact, studies show that states spend $2 for every $1 it receives by treating the problems associated with gambling.

Gov. Siegelman is projecting that approximately $450,000,000 will be spent on the lottery each year in Alabama and roughly one-third of this amount - $150,000,000 - would be spent for college tuition and other programs that the Governor designates. The basic needs in education, however, would not be addressed with the proceeds from the lottery. Those who will benefit the most from a lottery in Alabama are those in the gambling business.

So, where would all of this money come from? Sadly, it would largely come from the poor who can least afford to gamble and who are not likely to benefit from their gambling misfortunes. That's what the statistics from Georgia reveal. Those who purchase the most lottery tickets in Georgia are the poor, but those who get the free college tuition are the middle and upper class.

Going back to my original question, if providing free college tuition for college-bound young people is not the greatest educational need in Alabama, then what is? I think most people would say that improving K-12 education is the greatest need. Yet, other than providing some computers for schools, and establishing a four-year-old kindergarten for public schools the needs are not being met by the lottery.

In my opinion, what we need most in education are more teachers in the classrooms for special needs. More attention needs to be given to students who are accelerated in their learning process and for those who need
additional attention in order to achieve at their grade level Another priority would be to provide for alternative schools for disruptive students and those students who are prone to violence. None of Gov. Siegelman's "education" lottery money would go towards adding more teachers to the classrooms.

All over the state, we have portable classrooms and otherwise inadequate classrooms. The legislature passed a bond issue last year to address this issue, but it was not enough to replace all of these undesirable classrooms. Children should not be required to attend class in an unsafe classroom. None of Gov. Siegelman's "education" lottery money would go towards replacing unsafe classrooms.

Our teachers still are below the national average in their income. We need to adequately compensate our teachers for the often thankless, and sometimes dangerous, jobs they are doing. Teaching is one of the most honorable occupations in our society, yet none of Gov. Siegelman's "education" lottery money would go towards increasing teacher's salaries.

So, if we are not addressing the basic needs of education in Alabama through the lottery, why does the Governor call it the "education" lottery?

Senator Armistead is an Alabama State Senator for District 14.


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