By Rep. Darrio Melton
Every year, the last legislative days are crowded with budget debates. This year is shaping up to be no different. The Education Trust Fund budget, the budget that funds public education, is always a delicate balance between the requests of the Governor, the Legislature and the Department of Education.
This year, the teachers are asking for a pay raise to replace the remaining 2.5 percent that was cut from their check from 2011–2013. Last year, the legislature replaced two percent, but teachers are still making less today than they were when the Republicans took charge of the legislature.
The Democrats are requesting a six percent pay increase, but the Governor has agreed to a two percent increase and promised to veto any budget that doesn’t contain two percent for teachers.
When the budget came to the Alabama Senate, they sent out a budget with only a one percent, one-time pay increase.
The Senate budget chair, Senator Trip Pittman, has said that he isn’t sure if a raise is sustainable for teachers because of revenue uncertainty. I think the revenue is uncertain because the legislature refuses to tackle the tough issues to make sure the funding is available.
Democrats have provided multiple options to make sure that public education can be well-funded. By switching the tax structure through which we fund education, we can make the revenue more sustainable long-term. By repealing the Alabama Accountability Act, we can put public dollars back into public education where they belong. By increasing the minimum wage, we can increase consumer spending, which would yield higher sales tax returns for the Education Budget.
Regardless of how we find the money, we must treat our teachers and public employees with the respect and professionalism they deserve. The Republican supermajority made sure the legislative pay scale included an automatic cost of living increase, but they won’t make sure that the people who make this state great are treated with the same respect.
It is unacceptable that teachers are paying for paper towels and pencils out of their pockets. It is unacceptable that they are asked to shoulder the burden for a budget the committees can’t balance. It is unacceptable that professionals are being treated like a line-item.
Aside from parents, children spend more time with their teachers than any other adult. It’s time we started treating them and paying them accordingly.
Representative Darrio Melton is a democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010.