By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Wednesday, April 13, the Alabama Senate passed a $6.3 billion Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget for fiscal year 2017 (FY17).
Next year’s education budget includes: strategic increases for community colleges, student assessments, and scholarships for veterans. It also funds a four percent pay increase for teachers, support staff, principals, and most education employees. Education workers making over $75,000 per year who are not principals and assistant principals get just a two percent raise.
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) said, “I want to commend Senator Orr’s hard work on passing his first Education Trust Fund (ETF) as chair of the committee. This fiscally-responsible budget is another step in the right direction as we were able to give teachers a raise, provide a bonus to retirees and increase money for textbooks while making sure money is reserved for future use.”
Lt. Governor Kay Ivey (R) said, “When Republicans took charge of the Senate in 2010, many difficult choices had to be made about the future of our approach to funding education. Now, educators and students are benefiting from the structural changes made over the past five years.”
Senate Finance & Taxation Education Committee Chairman Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) said that the pay increase was necessary to keep and attract quality teachers. “If you are going to attract quality people to education, it is imperative that you compensate them accordingly. The legislature understands this and that it’s been nine years since educators have seen a true raise. I’m pleased the support was overwhelming.”
Sen. Orr said that there was not enough money in the budget to give education retirees a raise or a one time bonus; but that the bonus was a top priority for next year.
Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper) said, “Senate Republicans have made education funding and accountability a key priority. This year’s budget shows our commitment to education and the amazing teachers, support staff, and administrators that make it all work.”
Finance & Taxation Education Committee Vice Chairman Rusty Glover (R-Semmes) said, “Education is the foundation of economic growth. When we invest in our students and schools, we get a tremendous return. Senate Republicans did just that today.”
One major point of contention was supplemental appropriations for Talladega College, Lyman Ward Military Academy, and Tuskegee University. Sen. Phil Williams (R-Rainbow City) said that philosophically as a conservative he can not support diverting taxpayer dollars to those private schools. The three supplemental bills barely got the 24 votes necessary for passage. Six Senators led by Williams opposed the measures.
Because the Senate made changes to the budget as passed by the House, the Senate Republican Caucus said that they expected that the budget bill will go to a conference committee to work out the differences which they called “minor.”
Senator Marsh is still not satisfied with where Alabama’s public education system is today and that there is still a lot of work to do.
Sen. Marsh said, “Alabama is still 46th and 50th in reading and math, respectively, and only 16 percent of our high school graduates are college ready according to American College Testing (ACT). Education affects every part of this state and I cannot look at these numbers and accept the status quo. I am still committed to reforming our education system until there is noticeable improvement and all children are able to receive a high quality education. I look forward working with those in the education community who share my concerns on new and innovative reforms for next year.”