- Associated Press - Friday, October 24, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Alabama voters will decide Nov. 4 whether to give new protections to public schools against unfunded mandates enacted by the Legislature.

Amendment Four would require that at least two-thirds of the Legislature pass a law that causes city and county boards of education to collectively spend more than $50,000 in local funds if the state is not going to pay for the increased expense. Currently, an unfunded mandate can be approved by a majority vote.

Sally Howell, executive director of the Alabama Association of School Boards, said the two-thirds margin is a protection that Alabama voters gave to cities and counties by approving a constitutional amendment in 1999, and it is time school systems got the same protection.

Howell recalled that after a killer tornado hit Enterprise High School in 2007, one legislator proposed requiring schools to provide bike helmets to students to protect them from head injuries caused by falling debris in a tornado. She said that while the proposal had a noble goal, it had no funding, and schools successfully fought it.

“If the Legislature feels it’s important enough, they ought to fund it,” she said.

Amendment Four’s requirement for a two-thirds vote would not apply to employee compensation, benefits or due process rights. That means the Legislature could still approve a cost-of-living raise for school employees by a majority vote.

The proposed constitutional amendment, sponsored by Republican Sen. Dick Brewbaker of Pike Road, was approved by the Legislature in the spring without a negative vote. But it won’t take effect unless a majority of the voters gives its stamp of approval.

It has drawn support from a wide range of organizations, including a majority of the State Board of Education, the School Superintendents of Alabama, the Alabama Association of School Business Officials, the Alabama Farmers Federation and the Business Council of Alabama.

“Protecting local boards of education against significant expenditures mandated by the Legislature is a Business Council of Alabama priority,” BCA President Billy Canary said.

Amendment Four has raised concerns at the Wetumpka Tea Party. President Becky Garritson said it would make revisions to the constitutional amendment approved in 1999 and would insert “boards” in one provision concerning the authority of cities and counties to levy and collect revenue. She said she is concerned it could be used by school boards to levy new taxes for the purpose of satisfying legislative mandates.

“I will have to vote no on Amendment Four,” she said.

Howell said the word was inserted to keep the language for cities, counties and school boards identical, but it doesn’t provide any taxing authority to school boards.

At the Alabama Patriots tea party group in Brewton, President Danny Joyner said Amendment Four is nothing more than added financial protection for local school boards, and he plans to vote yes.

“Local school boards should not have to go into the red to meet often unnecessary requirements passed down from Montgomery,” Joyner said.

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