By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
The Alabama House of Representatives is expected to pass an education budget this week that will increase teachers and education workers by four percent a year……double the two percent raise requested by Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R). The education received a favorable report from the House Ways and Means Education Committee on Wednesday and could be passed by the full House as early as Tuesday.
Education administrators making over $75,000 per year would see just a two percent raise. Education retirees will get no raise this year. Community college employees are also slated to receive the four percent raise.
State Representative Mack Butler said in a statement, “This coming week we hope to pass the Education Budget in the House.”
The Alabama Education Retirees Association (AERA) is not even asking for a raise (which would be a burden on budgets going forward) but rather are asking for a 13th check, a fiscal year 2017 bonus, to help with the increased cost of living. AERA Executive Director Janice Charlesworth testified on Wednesday before the House Ways and Means Education Committee. Charlesworth said, “I stand here this morning representing all 87,000 retired educators. It has been ten years since education retirees received a raise even though cost of living has increased 30 percent.”
Charlesworth said that the education budget has $350 million in new money, but that the Committee only increased spending by $290 million. The AERA is asking for a bonus or a thirteenth check based on the same formula given retired state employees in 2014 rather than an unfunded COLA.
State Board of Education candidate in District One, Jackie Zeigler, a retired Principal and teachers said, “Due to Alabama’s recovering economy, there is ample funding now in the education fund to pay all expenses, give a long-overdue pay increase to teachers of 4 percent, and increase funding to those areas that are actually getting classroom results.”
Mrs. Zeigler said, “There is about $370 million more in the current Education Trust Fund, about a 6.2 percent jump. The bill gives a four percent salary increase to educators in the state’s K-12 and two-year colleges making $75,000 a year or less. This includes support personnel. A two percent raise can go to those making over that amount.”
Rep. Butler said that highlights of the budget include: a $2 million supplement for career tech instructors teaching in high demand sectors; $20 million to fully fund PEEHIP; $47 million increase in Other Current Expense (OCE); adding almost 500 new classroom teachers in grades 7-12; an additional $14 million for the pre-K program; an $8 million dollars for textbooks; $13.5 million increase for transportation; $5 million additional funding for classroom technology; $3.1 million additional funding for student materials; $1 million additional funding for distance learning; $1 million additional funding for advanced placement; $1.25 million in funding for gifted students.
Butler said, “This budget prioritizes funding increases in areas that have the greatest impact for our students and in just two years we have added over 150 million additional dollars to these areas.”
Zeigler said, “Since Alabama teacher salaries top out at just over $62,000 a year, this means classroom teachers would all see the four percent raise.” “The entry-level salary for a teacher with a bachelors’ degree can climb from $36,867 a year to $38,342 a year. A teacher with a bachelors’ degree and 15 years of experience can go from $44,670 a year to $46,457. The pay raise would cost about $146 million, which we already have.”
Zeigler said that we can fully fund schools without raising taxes: “Anybody talking about needing tax increases for education is simply wrong. The money is here. We have it. Our state department of education just needs to properly manage the money we now have.”
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley had requested a much smaller raise and that $174 million of Education Trust Fund (ETF) money be moved to the State General Fund (SGF) to avoid budget cuts there.