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House Unanimously Passes Education Budget

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

On Tuesday, March 8, both Alabama Republicans and Alabama Democrats embraced a massive $6.3 billion education trust fund budget (ETF) that sailed through the House with no opposition of any kind. All 105 members of the House voted for the budget, (House Bill 117), which is the largest ETF budget in state history.

House Ways and Means Education Chairman Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa) said in a statement, “As a result of the responsible spending practices that have been utilized since Republicans took leadership of the Legislature, this budget is able to reward teachers and support personnel with a needed pay raise that also closes the salary gap between administrators and classroom educators. This budget, coupled with ongoing reforms, represents an investment in our children and our education employees, in our workforce development and job creation efforts, and consequently, in our future prosperity. This budget truly focuses on solutions that will lead us to a better future.”

The Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives, (R-Auburn) said in a statement, “This budget also includes significant increases in classroom spending for priorities like First Class Pre-K, distance learning, school technology, and Advanced Placement courses. When coupled with the funding we are providing to make us the first state in the nation to offer wireless broadband access in each of its K-12 public school classrooms, this education budget may be considered among the best ones passed in Alabama’s history.”

The House passed budget gives teachers and support personnel, such as bus drivers, lunchroom workers, and paraprofessionals earning less than $75,000 a year a four percent salary increase. The teachers’ salary scale tops out around $62,000 a year so effectively all classroom teachers receive the four percent raise. Education administrators and others that make more than $75,000 will receive a two percent raise. The proposed ETF budget includes a four percent across the board pay raise for all community college employees. The budget also fully funds health insurance and retirement program funding requests.

State Representative Christopher John England said that the teacher pay raises are long overdue.

According to State Representative Tim Wadsworth (R-Winston County) the highlights of the Fiscal Year 2017 Education Trust Fund budget include: Providing funding for an additional 475 teachers in 7-12 grade classrooms, where the need is greatest; Increased spending for textbooks by $8 million; $13.5 million in extra money for student transportation; $14 million in expansion of Alabama’s voluntary Pre-Kindergarten program; a $3.1 million increase in funding for student materials; allowing local school systems to set priorities and meet urgent needs by providing an additional $47 million in discretionary “Other Current Expense” funding; and providing full funding for the Public Education Employees’ Health Insurance Program (PEEHIP) with a $20 million increase that is intended to avoid premium increases.

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Speaker Hubbard noted that Republican passage of the Proration Prevention Act in 2011 allowed the quicker than expected repayment of more than $400 million from a rainy day account used up in the aftermath of the Great Recession. The repayment freed up significant funding that can now be redirected to successful classroom programs.

An amendment offered by Rep. Richard Lindsey (D-Centre) to give a one time bonus check to education retirees (who did not get a raise in the budget) failed when Chairman Poole asked for a motion to table the amendment, which carried 54 to 39.

The House also passed a number of supplemental appropriations bills. HB118 was the appropriation for Talladega College. HB119 was the appropriation for the Lyman Ward Military Academy. HB120 was the appropriation for Tuskegee University. HB123 was a supplemental appropriation for technology.

Rep. Wadsworth said that HB122 was a supplementation appropriation for a longitudinal database. “This bills funds the bill that assigns a number to each student that follows the student from pre-k through school, jobs, military and life. It appropriates $1.6 million to the Department of Labor to fund that program.” Wadsworth opposed HB122 but it passed the House anyway.

According to the bill, HB122 appropriates $1,600,000 from the Education Trust Fund to the Department of Labor for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2016. This appropriation shall be expended for a statewide longitudinal 26 database to enable the state to efficiently and accurately manage, analyze and use education data to improve student learning and outcomes. The bill also appropriated $77,000 from the Education Trust Fund to the Department of Archives and History for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2016. This appropriation shall be expended for professional development and curriculum development for K-12 teachers. The bill also appropriated $75,000 from the Education Trust Fund to the Alabama Commission on Higher Education for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2016 for the Police Officer’s and Firefighter’s Survivor’s Educational Assistance Program and $15,632.45 to the Sickle Cell Oversight and Regulatory Commission.

HB122 was sponsored by Chairman Poole.

Critics of the Common Core standards and advocates for privacy rights argue that the state should not be able to track students through their years in the school system and beyond into the work force. Proponents argue that the information is needed for workforce development and for state planners to measure the effectiveness of their management.

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The ETF budget will now go to the State Senate for consideration.

Governor Robert Bentley had asked for just a two percent pay raise for teachers and education workers. Bentley had requested that $174 million be transferred from the ETF to the struggling State General Fund (SGF). The House ignored both requests.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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