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Senate committee passes education budget, will be on floor Thursday

By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

After 2 hours of debate, a Senate committee passed their version of the Education Trust Fund budget that makes small cuts to the pre-k program and the reading initiative appropriations when compared to the version the House passed last month.

Chairman Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said their version of the bill included 2.5 percent pay increases for k-12 employees, which was a promise of Gov. Kay Ivey during her State of the State address earlier this year.

But some on the committee voiced their concerns that the Senate’s version of the budget decreased the appropriations for Alabama’s pre-k program from $20 million to $18 million and Alabama’s reading initiative from $5 million to $4 million when compared to the version the House passed in February.

State Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, summed up the move as taking money from “little kids.”

Orr defended the decision by saying the increases are still the largest increases in state history for the two programs.

Figures also had concerns for the funding of non-state entities with a focused problem with the $500,000 appropriated for the Alabama Football Coaching Association.

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The Mobile senator, a veteran of the State House, said that the Legislature worked to stop funding the entities years ago and opted to give money to schools directly for their financial needs. She also said that the Legislature should meet again for a special session to go over the budget line-by-line with a fine-tooth comb.

Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, also had concerns about funding to help at-risk students. According to Smitherman, funding for at-risk programs has seen a $10 million decrease from where it was years ago.

By the numbers, the 2019 budget is the second largest in the state’s history and the largest since the Great Recession. In total, the Education budget is $6.6 billion, which is an increase of over $200 million from this year’s budget.

Ivey proposed an increase the funding as a part of her education initiative “Start Strong, Finish Strong,” which calls for an increase in pre-k, higher education, and other items targeting math and reading proficiency in grade school.

Since the Senate changed the funding, the budget will now go to the House for a speedy concurrence or a lengthy debate. The budget is expected to hit the Senate floor on Thursday.

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