- Associated Press - Saturday, December 5, 2015

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - The University of Alabama Systems’ chancellor is spearheading a coalition from kindergarten to four-year institution leaders to advocate the state’s education system.

The Alabama Unites for Education coalition launched Friday to protect the state’s education budget. The group includes the leadership of the UA System, the Alabama Community College System, and the Alabama Department of Education as well as the presidents of the UA system’s three campuses and Auburn University, the Tuscaloosa News (http://bit.ly/1LTbf1x) reported.

“The messages we will be able to deliver through this coalition will be stronger and will be received by a significantly broader group of people than we could possible reach if we operated solo,” Witt said.

Chancellor Robert Witt envisions the coalition as a long-term advocate for education in the state capable of addressing issues ranging from workforce development to funding for school nurses in the K-12 system.

Witt calls the coalition’s mission a “very large umbrella.”

The fiscal year 2016 general fund budget debate pitted the governor, who sought to fill a $200 million budget shortfall with increases in taxes and other revenues, against legislators resistant to tax increases.

The debate continued into special sessions and eventually included a transfer of $80 million in use taxes from the education trust fund into the general fund. The transfer was partially offset by a series of smaller revenue bills and adjustments to a spending cap law to free up more money for education.

Witt and the state Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, the chairman of the education budget committee, predict the debates of the last session will likely carry over into the upcoming legislative session that will begin in February 2016.

Witt said the coalition will shift its advocacy strategy from a traditional approach that only focused on the legislative sessions to a year-round information campaign.

Alabama Unites for Education launches a website, www.alunites.org, today to serve as a central hub for information and its efforts to connect with educators, students, alumni, families, business leaders and others as it advocates for the importance of education in the state. The coalition is envisioned a grass-roots network to disseminate information about educational issues in Alabama, Witt said.

“We are trying to produce a more informed set of readers and listeners,” Witt said. “We are trying, through this grass-roots effort, to better education the citizens of Alabama about education issues, so that when one comes up that they become aware of, they are in a position to react in a more informed way.”

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Online:

www.alunites.org

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