By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Tuesday the Ways and Means Education Committee of the Alabama House of Representatives met to discuss the 2013/2014 Education Budget. Chairman Jay Love (R) from Prattville introduced a substitute budget, House Bill 166, to replace the budget submitted to the legislature by Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R).
The new budget was released in a public hearing in Room 617 of the capital building. The Education budget provided appropriations for the support, maintenance, and development of public education. Chairman Love said that the legislature is getting in to the meat of the session with the budgets. The budget vote will be on Wednesday.
Love said that he is estimating that revenues will by $5.805 billion. Rep. Love said that his budget estimates that the Alabama Accountability Act will cost the Education Trust Fund $70 million. “When you issue tax credits revenue comes down.” Love said that the $70 million is just an estimate and could be considerably less than $70 million.
Love said that his budget pays back the money borrowed from the Alabama trust fund. Love hoped to have $200 million paid back by the end of 2013/2014 fiscal year.
Love said his budget increased funding for pre-k. There is $41.2 million in the education budget for economic development. This budget also moves some Higher Education bond servicing from the General fund. Most of the 2013 budget is level funded.
The budget calls for a 2% across the board pay increase for teacher’s and education employees.
The budget also appropriates $5 million to purchase liability insurance for teachers.
The budget provides a $250,000 increase to the Marion Military Institute. Rep. Patricia Todd asked, why? Chairman Love said that the increase was due to repair requirements for their dorms.
This budget eliminated $4 million in coaching to help students pass the high school graduation exam, because the state is doing away with the graduation exam. Love said that his budget increased funding to the state fire college. Love said that last year the fire college lost $750,000 in funding. This increase takes them back to their 2011 level. The mental health funding is being moved from the general fund to the education fund.
Chairman Love said that all the Universities in the state got an increase. The budget also increases the appropriation for the University of North Alabama climate studies. The budget increased the governor’s innovation fund by $6 million. A supplemental appropriation of $250,000 for public library keeps them whole. That order also appropriates $500,000 to the legislature, $400,000 to archives and history, funds the active shooter program, and increases the appropriation for the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind.
Chairman Love told reporters including ‘The Alabama Political Reporter’ that the main difference between his budget and the governor’s is that the governor’s budget had a $100 million guaranteed appropriation for the rainy day fund; while Chairman Love’s bill had a $35 million guaranteed item and $75 that is conditional.
Buddy Grey from Tuscaloosa addressed the committee asking them to cut funding for vocational rehabilitation. Grey said that they are not spending the money properly. He employs blind people for piano tuning. According to Grey the vocational rehab people have been sending the blind to college or getting them some sort of dead end training instead of training them for a job as a piano tuner.
Alabama Superintendent of Education Tommy Bice said that he is speaking neither for or against the Love budget, because he hasn’t seen it yet. Bice said that Alabama does have a plan: Plan 2020. “Our budget is based on that plan.” Bice said that his department had prepared the budget based on that plan to improve Alabama education. Bice said that his goal was to achieve a 90% graduation rate by 2020. The graduation rate was 72%. Last year it increased to 75%.
Larry Lee said that HIPPY Alabama, which provides education services for 3 and 4 year olds, is appreciative of the thanked the Legislature for their $1.5 million appropriation. Lee said that Hippy served 1778 children in 30 counties and said that he hopes to expand the program to more counties one day.
Roy Clem with Alabama Public Television said that 60 years ago Alabama became the first state in America to run an educational television network. Clem said for most children in Alabama APT is only pre-k they have. 200,000 Alabama students took live field trips through APT. Clem said that APT has taken a 58% cut in funding over the last several years. He is requesting a $4.5 million appropriation.
Chancellor Mark Heinrich of Alabama’s Two Year College system said that the two year college system is facing increased demand and is the key to economic development for this state.
Alabama Education Association Secretary Henry Mabry said that he appreciated the 2% pay increase. Mabry said that there has been no pay increase since 2008. Additionally the teachers and support personnel took an effective 2.5% cut beginning in 2012. Mabry said that the teachers and support personnel need at least a 5% pay increase. Mabry also said that the schools need more resource officers to provide adequate resources for school security. Mabry said that schools also need retrofitting. There are schools where the teachers are sitting ducks if a shooter enters the school.
Becky Gerritson with the Wetumpka tea party said that Alabama leads the nation in reading gains and accused Superintendent Bice of using Alabama Reading Initiative (ARI) funding for implementing the controversial Common Core Standards being promoted by Superintendent Bice and President Barack Obama.
Chairman Love told ‘The Alabama Political Reporter’ that the Committee will not meet for a week to allow the members to study the budget. Chairman Love expects that the Committee will vote on the budget at its next meeting on Tuesday at 10:30 am.