By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Wednesday, March 3, 2017, the Alabama House of Representatives passed a massive $6.417 billion Education Trust Fund Budget. The 72 page bill was sponsored by State Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) and was carried in the House by Ways & Means Education Chairman Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa).
State Representative John Knight (D-Montgomery) said, “The main purpose of being a legislator is to pass our budgets. We are not going to have a filibuster of the education budget.”
State Representative Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) said, “We are here to pass the education budget.” Daniels told Poole, “Mr. Chairman you have done a great job and I applaud you for the work you have done for the last three years.”
Daniels did say that, “This reapportionment really concerns me and we are disappointed with the charter schools bill and we are concerned that this bill is targeting Jefferson County. I would not want anyone doing that to my county.”
Chairman Bill Poole said, “The Education Budget for the State of Alabama is not a partisan issue.”
State Representative Mary Moore (D-Birmingham) had several concerns. “Specifically with the classroom size is there any way that we can monitor from school system to school system to see if they actually use that money in the classroom.” Moore said that when she was on the Birmingham City School Board that the system would divert that money to administration and there would be 30 kids in a classroom in some schools. “We have to have some system to monitor every school in the State.”
Chairman Poole said that by law the teacher unit money can not go to other purposes.
Rep. Moore was also critical of five year old kindergarten saying that there is too much play time and that they are not learning alphabet or spelling or anything like that
Chairman Poole said that this budget is $90 million more than last year, but there was no new money for higher education. All the colleges and universities are level funded at last year’s levels. There was more money for more Pre-K classrooms and for 152 more fourth thru sixth grade teachers. There is also more money for truant officers. “The next step is to require mandatory truancy programs in every county.”
Rep. John Rogers (D-Birmingham) said, “I am not tied to any group, the Black Caucus the Democratic Caucus, I speak for myself. I have no problem with this budget. This is one of the best budgets I have seen in 35 years I am not about to stall this budget at all.
State Representative Laura Hall (D-Huntsville) asked, “How many students are participating in dual enrollment?” Which schools are participating. More specifically what are the demographics, White and Black participation?
Chairman Poole said, “I do not know but I will submit a written request to the Alabama Department of Education for that information.”
Poole said that Teach for America is level funded in this budget. The charter schools commission is also level funded as is the office of the Chancellor for the two year college system.
Chairman Poole said that the budget contains $65 million for the PACT settlement; but only $2.1 million for needs based assistance and that makes us dead last in the country.
Rep. John Knight said, “We need to do better need to move some of the General Fund programs back to the General Fund.” “Why do we need the Governor’s office of faith based initiatives?”
Rep. Poole answered that it is level funded. Some federal grant money is moved through that office. When tornados hit my community that office was very active with the cleanup.
State Representative Allen Farley (R-McCalla) wrote on Facebook, “It appears we are about to pass the 2018 Education Budget out of the Alabama House of Representatives. Grand Total will be $6,417,000,027.00. My budget sheet shows that to be a $90,000,027.00 increase over the 2017 Education Budget. Spreadsheet shows a K-12 increase of $44,932,339.00, a Higher Ed increase of $32,263,739.00, and an increase in the category of ‘Other’ as $13,703,949.00. State agencies such as ‘Child Abuse and Neglect Abuse,’ ‘Early Childhood Education,’ and ‘The Legislative Reference Service,’ make up three of the ‘Other’ category in the Alabama Education Budget. My hat is off to House Ways and Means Education Chairman Bill Poole. Another Great Job!!!”
State Representative Mach Butler (R-Rainbow City) wrote on Facebook, “FYI the Education Budget for 2018 is 90 million more dollars than last years budget. We must invest in our young people and are doing so.”
Since the House passed a substitute budget instead of just passing the budget as it was sent to them by the Senate, it must go back to the Senate. A conference committee will likely have to be appointed to resolve the differences.
Also on Wednesday, the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee approved a much amended State General Fund (SGFB) Budget. The Senate is expected to pass that budget today. If that happens the budgets appear to be on track to final passage as early as Tuesday. There are seven Legislative days left in this Session.