By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
In a rare Wednesday night session, the Alabama House of Representatives passed the Republican education budget that just came out of committee on Tuesday. Included in the budget was an across the board 2% pay raise for education employees, liability insurance for teachers, and tax credits for parents of Alabama students who choose to take their children out of Alabama’s worst public schools.
Alabama Speaker of the House (R) from Auburn said, “We have made historic gains this session on our path to improve education in Alabama and this budget is yet another step towards innovation and progress. At a time when we face great economic uncertainty, I’m proud that we were able to not only provide a raise to our teachers but also provide them with the same liability protections all other state employees receive.”
Alabama State Senator Gerald Allen (R) from Tuscaloosa County said on Facebook, “I’m highly supportive of the education budget the House is debating. Because of conservative budgeting practices we’ve implemented over the past three years, the proposed budget includes a 2 percent pay raise for Alabama’s hard-working teachers and support personnel. This is hopefully the first raise in a plan to increase teacher pay over several years. We would obviously like to do more, but unfortunately we’re still recovering from the effects of the Great Recession. The education budget also provides an appropriation to provide public school teachers with the same type of liability insurance already provided to state employees – at no cost to the employee. I look forward to taking this budget up in the Senate.”
The budget that passed on Wednesday was a substitute for the budget that was submitted by Alabama Governor Bentley. The House education budget was written by the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Education Committee Jay Love (R) from Prattville with input from Governor Bentley (R)’s office, the state Department of Education, and other members of the legislature.
Chairman Love said, “We are still recovering from the Democrats’ years upon years of unchecked spending but we are making progress thanks to our conservative budgeting practices. Because we’ve made smart, common-sense financial decisions we are able to provide our teachers with the first pay increase they’ve received in years, putting money back into the pockets of our state’s educators. We have spent countless hours to ensure that the Education Trust Fund budget is as cost-effective as possible while ensuring that the most effective and needed programs are adequately funded.”
Chairman Love said that higher education receives 26.42% of the education dollars and K-12 received 73.58% of the 2013/2014 education budget. Love said that this budget also includes an appropriation of $5 million for professional liability insurance for Alabama teachers, so they don’t have to work through a third party to get insurance. Love said that the initial cost is $5 million, but that that should come down to $2 to 3 million after the first few years. Chairman Love said, “This is a benefit that we are trying to provide teachers.” “Some teachers are paying up to $500 a year to buy that coverage.” Love said that nobody should have to go out on their own to buy coverage that should be paid for by their employer.
Rep. Craig Ford (D) from Gadsden opposed the liability insurance and questioned Love’s motives. Currently the teachers unions provide their membership with similar insurance. Critics of the status quo argue that the unions (predominately the Alabama Education Association (AEA)) use the lack of liability insurance to pressure teachers into joining the union and artificially inflates their membership.
The budget also pays back the money that the state borrowed from the Alabama Trust fund.
Chairman Love said, “We have to pay that back by the end of 2015. If the economy keeps growing we can pay this.” The budget calls for repaying $35 million to the Alabama Trust Fund in this fiscal year.
The budget provides a 2 percent raise for teachers and other education employees. That’s a reduction from the 2.5 percent raise suggested by Gov. Robert Bentley and is far less than the 5% asked for by the AEA.
Chairman Love said, “A lot of thought has been put in this budget.”
The bill establishing the new teacher liability coverage and raising teacher pay passed with broad support 86 to 13. Similarly the House Republican budget easily passed the House 84 to 16.
The education budget now goes to the Alabama Senate.