By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Thursday, the Republican controlled Alabama House of Representatives passed a state education trust fund budget which includes a 2% pay increase for all K-12 education employees. The House concurred with changes made by the Alabama Senate. The bill also provides education employees with a new liability insurance benefit.
The education budget was sponsored by House Education Chairman Jay Love (R) from Prattville. Chairman Love said that he would like to have given a bigger budget but, “Our hands are tied.
If we had that $235 million we are being forced to pay back to the rainy day fund….” Love blamed overspending by the Democrats when they controlled the legislature for the current budget issue and referenced a $6.7 billion education appropriation in 2008 as one of the reasons for the depleted rainy day fund.
In 2008, the then Democratic Party controlled legislature used the rainy day fund to prop up that pre-Great Recession level of education funding. Now the state is obligated to pay back that money to the rainy day fund giving the legislature less money to spend. According to Chairman Love, the legislature hopes to have $200 million to pay back the rainy day fund at the end of the 2014 fiscal year.
Chairman Love said that the House passed a $12.5 million increase in funding for Pre-K. In the current fiscal year the state is spending $19 million on Pre-K. The Senate committee cut that increase to just $6 million. The budget passed by the Senate took that increase back to $9 million for a total appropriation of $28 million.
Love said that the budget increases Advanced Placement funding from $2.2 million to $3.7 million in FY 2014. The state department of Education received a $2.3 million increase; but $1.5 million of that is for Advanced Placement and $500,000 of that is for an increase in spending for art education. The two year colleges received increased funding of $3.9 million.
House Minority Leader Craig Ford (D) from Gadsden asked what was the total amount of the education budget that left the House? Love said that the House budget anticipated a $5740 million education budget. The Senate increased that to $5765 million…..a $25 million increase but less than what Governor Bentley had originally requested.
The state legislature got a $one million increase. Love said that that money goes for the general operations of the legislature and goes to the clerks offices where it is divided between the House and the Senate.
Rep. Ford asked about a $50,000 budget line for the Jefferson County Farmers Market that the Senate added to the budget. Chairman Love said, “They (the Senators) explained it as nutritional education.” Love said that Senator Linda Coleman (D) from Birmingham asked for that.
Rep. Love told Ford, “The only perfect budget is the one you write yourself.”
Rep. Ford said, “We used to have community service grants.” “This goes directly to the schools. It has paid for tubas, for swim teams to go to competition, for football safety equipment
can we increase that in the future?” “When I came down here each legislator got $50,000 a year.”
Rep. Love said that amount has been as low as $0. “I will tell you this. Once we get this money paid back to the Alabama trust fund and the rainy day fund some of that can be restored. Right now paying that money back is the priority.”
Rep. Alvin Holmes (D) from Montgomery asked Chairman Love, “What does the average teacher in Alabama make?”
Love replied, $48,000.
Holmes asked about starting teachers.
Love replied, “$32,000 is the average starting pay.”
Holmes said that the teachers should get at least a 5% raise and said that the state was representing the well to do people while overlooking the little people and said they have been doing this since slavery time. “We got to give the teachers more money.”
Chairman Love said, “I would love to give them more, but we are having to spend $200 million to pay back for reckless spending.”
Holmes said, “I want you to do this is ask to non-concur and send it to a conference committee.”
Teachers and education employees have seen their gross pay stagnate at 2008 levels. Their net pay has dropped by two and a half percent since then due to the legislature requiring that educators contribute more money toward their retirement. Additionally the federal tax increases passed in January has further eroded the educators’ actual take home pay.
Rep. Ford said in a written statement, “Educators, retirees, and state employees deserve to be treated with respect and shown appreciation for the difficult jobs they do.” Ford and the Alabama Education Association (AEA) asked for a 5% raise for education employees. Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) requested a 2.5% raise. The House passed a 2% raise. The Senate Education Committee passed a 1% raise with a conditional up to 1% one time bonus. Ultimately the Alabama Senate passed a budget with a 2% raise.
Rep. Mack Butler (R) from Rainbow City said on Facebook, “We are currently debating the Education Trust Fund. The Senate non-concurred and amended the budget. Revenue is meeting and exceeding projections so the welcome increases are 1.5 million additional AP funding. 12 million OCE funding. 3 million transportation funding. My opinion is we will concur with the Senate.”
Chairman Love said that the Education Budget is $40 million below the average of the LFO and EBO budget estimates.
Love said that the state revenue and finance department had determined that the Alabama Accountability Act will not apply to students currently enrolled in a private school which decreases the legislature’s estimate of the cost of the Alabama Accountability Act.
65 Representative voted to end debate and 32 voted no which allowed the Speaker to allow the state Representatives to vote on the Education budget.
The House voted to concur with the Senate in a 70 to 26 vote. The Education Budget now goes to the Governor for his signature.