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Senate passes largest education budget in state history

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday, May 2 the Alabama Senate passed the education trust fund (ETF) budget, Senate Bill 199 on a 28 to 2 vote.

SB199 was sponsored by Senator Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, who chairs the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, released a statement regarding Senate passage of the Education Trust Fund.

“This is the largest education budget in state history, thanks to fiscally conservative practices over the past several years, we are able to budget over $7 billion toward public education in Alabama,” Marsh said. “Overall this is an excellent budget, we were able to provide educators with a 4% pay raise and increase money for our teacher’s professional development and classroom supplies. We were even able to fully fund transportation for the first time since 2008.”

The bill included an effort to expand broadband to all Alabama public schools.

“In addition, we are making a multi-million dollar investment in rural broadband,” Marsh said. “Internet connectivity is a major issue in our rural areas and impacts everything from education to economic development,” Children now rely on the internet both at school and at home and our goal is to make sure that children in rural areas have the same educational opportunities as those in more urban areas.”

The Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee passed the education trust fund budget on Tuesday.

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The $7.1 billion ETF budget for Fiscal Year 2020 goes into effect October 1st.

Due to the booming economy it has become harder for systems, particularly rural school systems, to recruit new teachers, which is one reason why the legislators felt it was necessary to include a 4 percent teacher pay raise following a 2.5 percent pay raise last year.

“This education budget, the largest in Alabama’s history, is a historic investment in the success of Alabama’s schools and colleges,” said Chairman Orr. “We have made progress, but I don’t think anyone, from teachers to parents to legislators, is satisfied with where we are in national educational rankings. This budget invests a 4% pay raise in our teachers, because the people leading the classrooms can help accomplish positive outcomes better than anyone else in the school system, and we need to make sure that they have every resource that they need to be successful.”

The budget includes a $27 million increase for First Class Pre-K, Alabama’s.

This year, the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) ranked First Class as the highest-quality Pre-K program in the nation, for the 13th year in a row, but only 32 percent of the state’s four year-olds currently receive Pre-K. Many are on a waiting list. This increase will allow the state to set up more Pre-K classrooms.

The Senate’s education budget includes a $39 million increase for the Community College System, a $6 million increase for workforce development programs administered by the Department of Commerce, and an additional $900,000 for career tech initiatives in the K-12 system.

“This is a banner day for education in Alabama,” said Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed. “Thanks to a growing economy and the fiscal discipline that Republicans have had for the past several years, we now have the largest education budget in the history of our state. A strong educational system is the foundation of a thriving state, and the 4% pay raise represents the Legislature’s commitment to rewarding teachers and ensuring that Alabama is competitive in recruiting the best teachers we can to lead Alabama’s classrooms.”

Alabama’s largest education budget in history also includes a $1.5 million increase for dual enrollment scholarships so that high achieving high school students can take coarse work for college credit. The budget includes an additional $10 million for the Alabama Reading Initiative (Alabama students recently ranked 46th in reading) and a $500,000 increase for school-based mental health programs. The in-school mental health services will be administered by the Alabama Department of Mental Health.

This budget restored much of the state funding for higher education that was taken away in the financial aftermath of the Great Recession; but Orr said that higher education is still not where it was at in 2008, before even factoring in inflation or rising salaries. This is the largest amount of money that the state has ever spent on K-12 education.

Passing the two budgets is the primary constitutional duty of the legislature. The ETF is the budget for the education programs of the states and the state general fund (SGF) is for non-education state agencies including prisons, Medicaid, mental health, state troopers, courts, and dozens of other state agencies.

Thursday concludes the 15th of 30 possible legislative days in the 2019 regular session.

“I want to thank Senator Orr and his staff, as well as the members of the education budget committee for their commitment to crafting a sensible, fiscally responsible spending plan, every Senator should be proud of this budget and the support it provides for our teachers and students.”
The education trust fund budget now goes to the Alabama House of Representatives for their consideration. The House has already passed the SGF and is awaiting senate action.

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