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$6.6 billion Education budget passes out of committee, heads to House floor next week

The Alabama House chambers. (FILE PHOTO)

By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

The 2019 Education Trust Fund — the first under Gov. Kay Ivey’s new education initiative — passed unanimously out of its committee on Wednesday.

The bill passed with no discussions from committee members as a public hearing hammered out the details on Tuesday. In addition to the budget, the committee also passed a bill to give educators a pay raise of 2.5 percent.

House Ways and Means Education Committee Chairman Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, said he was “optimistic” about the budget and told reporters that the bill would be expected on the floor next Thursday.

Here are a few highlights of the proposal.

By the Numbers

The 2019 educational budget is the largest one proposed since the Great Recession with the Legislature allocating $6.6 billion to the Educational Trust fund. The total increase is $216 million from 2018’s budget, which was to the tune of $6.4 billion.

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Alabama’s last highest Educational budget was the 2008 budget, which was $6.7 billion. Following the economic downturn that threatened global economic stability, Alabama cut its Education Trust Fund budget to $5.7 billion in the 2009 budget.

Early Education

The Department of Early Education received a $20.7 million bump from the budgeted $79 million of this year’s budget. Most of the $20.7 million went to the Office of School Readiness, which oversees the pre-k program in Alabama.

Increased funding for Alabama’s pre-k program has been a priority for the Ivey administration since she took office last April. Ivey recommitted her position in her first State of the State address where she dedicated most of the speech to education.

In addition to the $20 million boost, the proposed budget also allocated $500,000 for Ivey’s “Strong Start, Strong Finish” initiative. Part of the governor’s initiative focuses on pre-k through third-grade education with a focus in reading skills.

The Alabama State Department of Education’s report card, an annual report on Alabama’s schools on an A-F scale, found that a plurality of student who took the reading section of the ACT Aspire test were not proficient in reading for their grade level.

K-12 and pay raises

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Alabama’s K-12 program received $4.1 billion, a $114 million increase from 2018’s budget.

The hike comes as a bill that would give educational employees a 2.5 percent increase passed out of committee Wednesday morning. Increasing the pay of employees was another promise made by Ivey during her State of the State address in January.

It is the first pay increase since 2016 where they received a 4 percent increase.

Other allocations

The Alabama reading initiative received a $5 million increase per the governor’s request. At a conference on Friday, the governor laid out her plans for reinvigorating the program.

Ivey’s plans include an incentive-based program for schools that show great improvements in reading proficiency among third-graders. It would also allow for regional reading coaches in areas where under performing schools are located.

Higher education also enjoyed a boost in funding with an additional $37 million being spread across Alabama’s universities.

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