CLARIFYING SUPREME COURT ACTION
Contrary to headlines this week, the Alabama Supreme Court decision was not a setback for Higher Ed. This was simply a procedural decision that does not have any bearing on the outcome of the pending battle for equal treatment of higher education; that issue has not yet been heard by the Supreme Court and universities are continuing to pursue it aggressively.
By deciding not to clarify their original Stay Order of February 27, the Alabama Supreme Court is saying that a ruling on the viability of the Attorney General's opinion will not be made at this time. They are saying that before the Supreme Court makes a decision on this issue, a determination should be made in a lower court. This does not mean that they agree or disagree with the Attorney General. According to a Mobile Register story on March 15, Richard Allen of the Attorney General's office acknowledged that the court could decide later that Attorney General Bill Pryor is in error.
On February 22, Circuit Judge Tracy McCooey ruled that the Governor could not prorate certain K-12 programs. The Universities appealed to the Supreme Court and were granted a stay of that order on February 27. Bolstered by a later opinion issued by the Attorney General, the Governor announced that he intended not to prorate K-12 salaries and to shift the burden to the rest of the education budget - mainly to Higher Education.
Higher Ed then asked the Supreme Court to clarify its stay to prohibit the Governor from taking any action to change the status quo and to leave in effect the across-the-board 6.2% cut that the Governor had ordered on February 2. In their decision, the Supreme Court simply declined to clarify the stay. The Justices did not rule on the correctness of the Attorney General’s opinion or on the Governor’s plan to shift the burden of proration to Higher Ed. There is not yet an established time frame for the Supreme Court ruling on the broader issues in our case that are now before it on appeal.
In other legal developments, the Alabama Association of School Boards (AASB) and others filed a motion this week that we vigorously oppose. The AASB and other plaintiffs have apparently abandoned efforts to protect K-12 educational programs from proration in favor of protecting only K-12 employee salaries. That is their “compromise” to alleviate the divisiveness in the education community and to try to get Higher Education to back away from its objections to unequal treatment. It is not an acceptable solution.
Universities informed Judge McCooey of higher ed's opposition to the AASB motion and of our plans to present substantive objections to it. Our fundamental argument: both the Alabama Constitution and state law mandate proration without discrimination. Anything else makes no sense and does not serve the interest and welfare of Alabama and its citizens.
BUDGET COMMITTEE ACTION EXPECTED APRIL 3
As state officials seek solutions to the education budget stalemate, we do not expect any Legislative discussion until next week. The Education Budget is expected to come out of Committee Tuesday, April 3, with debate to follow quickly.
In your conversations with House and Senate members, please continue the consistent message that has helped us to this point: Share the pain of proration equitably between K-12 and Higher Ed. No other solution is acceptable.
Our efforts to fight the AEA have been successful to date. We must not let up the pressure on lawmakers. A united and vocal effort is the key to our continued success in preventing unfair and inequitable budget cuts for Higher Ed.
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