By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Thursday, May 21, the Alabama legislature passed SB179, the fiscal year 2016 Education Trust Fund budget unanimously. All 105 members of the Alabama House of Representatives voted for the nearly $6 billion budget, which went to a conference committee before both Houses concurred with the committee recommendations.
Ways & Means Chairman Committee Chairman Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa) was spared the hours of rancorous debate over teacher pay raises, budget priorities, textbook funding, etc. that normally accompanies a typical Education Trust Fund budget debate. There was no filibuster. Cloture did not have to be invoked and no criticism. The version that passed the House was a substitute that was similar to the Senate version, but not identical.
State Representative Pebblin Warren (D-Tuskegee) said to Poole, “I want to commend you for all the hard work you have done and for the communication you have made with your committee members.” Rep. Warren praised Poole for include career counselors in the budget.
Rep. Paul Beckman (R-Prattville) said to Poole, “You have done an excellent job.”
That opinion was echoed by Rep. John Knight (D-Montgomery), “Mr. Poole you have done an excellent job with the budget.”
Rep. John Rogers (D-Birmingham) said, “I am very satisfied with this budget.” “Higher education and K-12 both deserve their share.” “I am satisfied…..this is a very fair budget.”
Rep. Danny Garrett (R-Tuscaloosa) said, “This budget fully supports traditional public education and puts money back in the classroom.”
Rep. Teri Collins (R-Decatur) said that the budget was supported by the Alabama Education Association, the Alabama school boards, the Alabama school superintendents, and other stake holders.
Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) said to Poole after passage, “To pass a $6 billion budget unanimously is a testament to you, your committee, and the legislative fiscal office.”
During the almost shockingly brief debate, Rep. Knight asked if the Chancellor of the Two Year College System had come to Poole and requested funding for minority scholarship as agreed to by the system in a court order?
Chairman Poole said he had met with the Two Year College System.
Rep. Knight asked he has not lobbied with you?
Poole said I met with them like I did last year.
Knight asked if the Commission on Higher Education had made efforts to push for funding for need based scholarships.
Poole said there is a line item increase in need based scholarships.
Knight said that the Chancellor of the Two Year Colleges and the Commission on Higher Education have agreed to lobby for and make an effort to get funding for need based scholarships and they aren’t complying with those agreements.
Rep. Beckman asked about funding for mental health services and asked for Poole to work with him on getting some income from properties owned by the Department of Mental Health.
Chairman Poole said that Beckman need to work through the Department pf Mental Health.
The only legislator to attempt to add an amendment to the budget was Rep. Jack Williams (R-Vestavia) who wanted to give whistleblower protection to the employees of any education budget entities for reporting NCAA violations, SACs violations, and Alabama High School Athletic Association rules.
Poole said that the budget is an inappropriate vehicle for the amendment which impacts a number of issues that impact areas beyond the budget. “I will oppose the amendment.”
Speaker Hubbard said, “That would be legislating in the budget and that is inappropriate.”
Rep. Williams withdrew the amendment and said that he anticipated coming back with legislation next year.
State Senator Bill Holtzclaw (R from Madison) wrote on his blog, “The House passed the Education Budget in a 105 – 0 vote…a truly amazing feat that no one seems to have every recalled. The Education Budget approves and appropriates $5.9B for education in our state.”
Chairman Poole told reporters afterwards that he was pleased to pass the bipartisan bill that was supported by everybody in the house. I have tried to direct every dollar possible to the classroom.
Poole said that the budget had increased funding for books, professional development, Advanced Placement classes, the Alabama School of Math and Science, the Alabama School of Fine Arts, pre-K, etc. “We addressed everything we could with the money available.”
Poole said that the state did not have sufficient dollars for a pay raise and Peehip is level funded after receiving $60 million last year.
Poole said that the economy is growing and more revenues are coming in but the ETF still has not returned to 2008 funding levels.
Poole said that the state is projecting economic growth and said that it, “Is important that we are incentivizing tax credit and jobs but needs to be purposeful and strategic with that.”
The Senate non-concurred with the House on the Education Budget. A conference committee was appointed to address the differences in the two education budget versions. Alabama Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh (R-Anniston) said that the conference committee will meet that afternoon and that he wants to get the education budget finished and the budget to the Governor.
The over $5.9 billion budget appropriates $4,156,213,303 for pre-K thru grade 12, $1,528,794,129 for education and $305,898,497 for “other” agencies.
Sen. Holtzclaw wrote, “Some changes were made in the House requiring the bill (the ETF budget) to go to a Conference Committee. Both the Senate and House concurred with the changes. The bill now goes to the Governor for consideration. The Senate adjourned just before 4PM and will reconvene on Tuesday of next week at 2PM. As discussed in previous blog posts, we are nearing the end of the 2015 Regular Session. Our State Constitution limits each regular session to 30 Legislative Days (a Legislative Day is counted when we are called to the floor for a vote whether it be one bill or 100 bills). Tuesday will be the 25th Legislative Day leaving us just 5 days to pass the General Fund Budget.”