By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Time is running out on the 2013 legislative session and several bills affecting education employees are on the calendar for the closing days of this session. The Alabama Education Association (AEA) addressed some of these issues in the Monday’s ‘Alabama School Journal.’
The biggest of these is of course the education budget. Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) proposed an education budget that gave education employees a two and a half percent pay raise across the board. The Alabama House rejected that budget and instead passed a budget with just a two percent pay raise. The Alabama Senate cut that raise to just a one percent pay raise though included language giving up to a one percent one time bonus “IF” the state meets all of its revenue projections. The legislature has to resolve the differences between their competing education trust fund budgets.
AEA Executive Secretary Henry Mabry said in the ‘Alabama School Journal,’ “We are witnessing the incredible shrinking raise for some education employees.” “Its as if these legislators are determined to starve the people who have given their careers to educate our children.”
State Representative Allen Farley (R) from McCalla in his weekly internet column said in response to a young teacher asking if he should change careers, “My teacher friend has to drive a school bus, coach, and take an extra job outside of teaching. Without the extra income he will have to cut his family’s expenses. Everyone understands his dilemma, but what about the state’s dilemma? We also have more expenses than our current income can pay for. We can’t walk away. We must fix it, but it’s not an overnight fix. (It took 136 years of Alabama politics to create this taxpayer funded smorgasbord). We could leave all those people eating at the state’s table and simply collect more taxes to pay for the increased food bill, or cut back on the amount of food until we determine who really needs to be at the table. That’s a tough thing to do when the state’s dining room has been bringing in more chairs every year for 136 years.”
Tied to the pay raise debate is the debate on whether or not the state can afford the Alabama Accountability Act. The Republican Super-majority has already passed the landmark legislation which will allow parents whose children are zoned to some of the worst schools in the state of Alabama to take a tax credit for taking their kids to another school…..even a private school. The problem that the state has is that tax credits cost the education budget money and nobody knows how many private school kids live in our worst school districts or how many public school kids will bail on their terrible schools. Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh (R) from Anniston earlier estimated the cost of this legislation at $70 million. House Education Budget Chairman Love (R) from Prattville acknowledged that it could be that high or as low as $40 million. Some public education advocates have thrown out numbers in excess of $100 million. Senator Marsh has proposed legislation that would “fix” the Alabama Accountability Act.
Opponents of the Accountability Act remain skeptical. Senator Hank Sanders (D) from Selma said, “This entire legislation both the original law and the proposed corrective bill – is a pig-in a poke. All this proposed corrective legislation does is to put lipstick, powder, and paint on this pig-in a poke.”
A bill, SB 303, that would have removed the Executive Secretary of AEA (currently Henry Mabry) from the Teacher’s Retirement System (TRS) was amended in the Senate. The legislation gave the state’s universities two new representatives but removed the AEA head and a board member who represented education support workers. Senator Vivian Figures (D) from Mobile proposed amending that bill on Thursday to add the two University representatives without subtracting the two current board positions. Figures amendment passed in the Senate 30-3. The amended version of SB 303 now goes to the Alabama House.
Senator Marsh has sponsored legislation, Senate Bill 439, which would merge the teacher’s PEEHIP Board with the non-education employees SEHIP Board. The AEA opposes this legislation. Mabry said, “The PEEHIP Board has met its obligations and is running a conservative program that benefits all education employees and the state. The last thing the Legislature needs to do is tamper with PEEHIP or even think about combing the state employees’ program.” “Why should an efficient PEEHIP be punished by combining with the SEIB, which is obviously having mounting problems.”
The members of PEEHIP elect the PEEHIP board while SEIB is largely appointed by the Governor. Proponents of the legislation argue that it does not make sense for the state to have too different state employee health benefits boards, one for education employees and the other for non-education employees.
The legislature also has tea party and conservative groups lobbying the legislature to repeal common core.