MONTGOMERY, AL—The Alabama Department of Education reported Wednesday that its sole textbook has begun to seriously show its age after more than a decade of heavy daily use at the state's 1,500 public schools.

Officials said the decrepit tome, titled Introduction To Civics, has recently become so tattered that it is now nearly unusable for the 748,000 students enrolled in kindergarten through 12th grade who are required to share it.

"When you have every child in Alabama using the same textbook, there's bound to be a certain amount of wear and tear over time," said State Superintendent Dr. Thomas R. Bice, lifting the book's cover to reveal the thin strip of adhesive barely connecting the badly disfigured piece of cardboard to its spine. "But with our book in this condition—pages partially ripped, some separated from the binding and jammed elsewhere in the wrong sequential order, others missing entirely—it becomes difficult to maintain an effective curriculum."

"Unfortunately, what we have here is a book whose viability as Alabama's primary teaching tool has just about run its course," he added.

Officials from the cash-strapped state explained that because Introduction To Civics is touched by close to 1.5 million hands during a typical school day, many of its 358 pages—which cover the basic structure of American government as well as the rights and duties of citizens—are so caked in food and beverage stains and blanketed with crude depictions of human genitals that entire chapters have been rendered illegible.

In addition, high demand for the textbook has resulted in a constant conflict of availability. With schools across the 50,000-square-mile state struggling to coordinate class schedules in order to drop the book off and pick it up at the right times, many students are forced to wait hours before instruction can begin.

According to sources, a student will often leave the book in his or her locker by accident, thereby preventing 300,000 others from doing their homework that night.

"This week I really needed the textbook for a big math test we have coming up, but the seniors were using it to study for their AP Chemistry exam, and after that it had to go to some sixth-grade Spanish class down in Mobile," Montgomery-area 15-year-old Kyla Richter said. "When I finally got it, I only had 11 seconds to do as much cramming as I could before I had to hand it off again."

"I think I'm going to fail," she added.

However necessary they may be, plans to replace Introduction To Civics have set off a fierce debate within the Alabama education establishment. Fiscally-minded officials have argued that the state's textbook could easily be repaired, as it has been many times in the past, with a couple bottles of Wite-Out and a roll of Scotch tape.

Jefferson High School principal Trevor Mills, however, believes cost shouldn't be the only factor considered when it comes to the one book forming the pillar of the state's education system.

"Look, I'm no stranger to the economic reality we're living in, with funding being slashed left and right, but we owe it to our kids to provide them with something better," said Mills, whose hire in 1999 coincided with the state's acquisition of Introduction To Civics from a used bookstore. "Maybe it's a lot to ask, but $40 for a new copy would be a huge, huge help."

"A replacement book would greatly enrich our students' educations and give our hard-working teachers the single most important resource they need to do their jobs effectively," he continued. "All 12 of them depend on it."