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Promised $22 million vanishes from budget

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY– Alabama’s Flexible School Calendar Act has proven to be a controversial law among many groups. It was passed by the state legislature with many believing there would be an additional $22 million added to the Education Trust Fund but when it became law the $22 million was nowhere to be found.

According to Senator Bill Holtzclaw (R-Madison), “Promising an extra $22 million is how this bill was sold. This is how they got AEA on board, teachers on board and so many others. But at the end off the day where is the $22 million? It’s not there.” Holtzclaw voted against the act as did other republicans and democrats. However the opposition including an Executive Order from the governor provide insufficient to derail the bill’s passage.

In the Fiscal Notes for SB318 (Regular Session 2012) on page 58, Section 5, it reads, “…the amount $22,563,277 (conditioned upon enactment of Senate Bill 547 or House Bill 360 of this Regular Session) to the State board of Education, Local Boards of Education, to reduce the divisors used for the calculation of the Foundation Program by 15.”

House Bill 360 on which the $22 million was contingent passed and became law but there is a problem there as well. A reading of the Fiscal Notes for HB360 (Regular Session 2012) finds that there is no mention of the promised millions. According to Senator Roger Bedford (D-Russellville), “Those millions vanished into the Republican’s house of smoke and mirrors.”

An examination of the final bill that came out of conference committee, Substitute 143175-2 for SB318 (Regular Session 2012), has the $22 million not written into page 58, Section 5.

According to Holtzclaw the bill was promoted as a way for school around the state to retain classroom divisors and therefore keep classes smaller and more manageable.

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Holtzclaw explains, “What they did– and I believe the Governor sees it the same way I do–is they said, ‘We want you to give up your right to set your own school calendar and in return we will give you $22 million. And that $22 million is going to help you keep your classroom divisors so you will not have to raise the size of your classroom.’”

Bedford said. “We called this the ‘Baldwin County Holds the State Hostage Bill.’”

Supporters of the bill said that a shorter school year would help tourism, especially on the Gulf Coast. During the floor debates a study was cited that shows moving ten school days out of August would have a $330 million dollar impact on the state’s economy. It is also said that the flexible calendar could also reduce operating costs for school systems.

According to Representative Randy Davis (R-Daphne), who carried HB360 in the House said the idea was to “generate increased revenue and also act as a cost saving measure.”

Davis points out that while the $22 million was mentioned on the House floor during debates it was never an official part of the House version of the bill and that he was not aware of the senate version.

However, in the Education Trust Fund comparison sheet online at

http://www.lfo.state.al.us/pdfs/FY2013%20Budget%20Info/FY2013%20ETF/ETF%20FY%202013%20PASSED%20LEGISLATURE%205-16.pdf

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on page 9, under Conditional Appropriations (near the bottom), “K-12 Foundation to Reduce Divisors” — the $22 million passed the Senate and passed the House being added to the budget. Then in the next line it was removed in the final conference committee report and still the budget balanced.

According to the provisions in the bill at the 2014 Legislative session the Fiscal Office must present the House and Senate with a report on how much money has been realized from the Flexible School Calendar Act.

Holtzclaw, says he is not going to wait two years to see if the act is working and will request a preliminary report at the next regular session of the legislature.

Holtzclaw said, “The folks in my district are not happy with this bill.” It seems that the Senator has ways in mind to make his constituents happy.

Many legislators were contacted for this report they were either unavailable or declined to comment saying they needed further time to research the matter.

Written By

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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