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House passes $7.1 billion education budget

Brandon Moseley



The Alabama House of Representatives passed the education trust fund budget Tuesday.

Senate Bill 199 is sponsored by State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur.

The bill was carried on the House floor by State Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, who chairs the House Ways and Means Education Committee.

Poole’s committee substituted the budget that came down from the Senate with their own version of the budget and the House voted to pass that substitute budget.

At $7.1 billion, this is the largest education budget in the history of the state, but Poole warned that funding will not fix all the issues with education in Alabama.

Poole said the budget provides a 4 percent pay increase to all education employees in the state.

“That is a 10 percent increase over the last four years,” Poole said.

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“I am a little disappointed that retired educators are not in this budget,”  said House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville. “I don’t want to ever forget our retirees and the work that they have done.”

“There is an acute need there,” Poole said. “We need a plan that is sustainable.”

“There has been a significant increase in pre-K,” Daniels said. “That is one of the priorities of our caucus.”


“You have done a fantastic job from day one as chair of the Education Budget Committee,” said State Rep. Alan Farley, R-McCalla.

Poole said the community college system is getting $28 million in additional money. That is a 7.5 percent increase in the budget. He also said the community college system is also getting a supplemental appropriation of $26 million and a second supplement appropriation for total new dollars of $55 million.

State Rep. Brett Easterbrook, R-Four Points, praised Poole for cutting the appropriation for the Alabama Charter Schools Commission to $300,000 from the $500,000 in the Senate budget and suggested that it be cut further.

Easterbrook cited a disagreement about a charter school application in Washington County and concerns about the operations of the committee.

“We fund reading coaches through the Alabama Reading Initiative,” Poole said. “The reading initiative picks up about $7 million.”

“I want all of the members to know how methodical this process has been,” said State Rep. Barbara Drummond, D-Mobile.

State Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said the Senate budget had $30 million in it for expanding broadband, now it is down to $8 million.

Poole said they would talk about it in the conference committee.

Poole said while every college in the state got an increase in this budget, they still have some colleges that are not funded at 2008 level yet. Some colleges and universities have a dire need for facilities repair and modernization.

State Rep. Danny Garrett. R-Trussville, said this budget addresses the pre-K, K-12, and the community colleges. He said it was a very balanced process.

State Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, asked what they plan on doing about a COLA for retirees.

A COLA is a cost of living adjustment.

“For years we have structured our retirees benefit as a defined benefit,” Poole said.

“We have not funded COLAs over the decades,” Poole said. “If we were going to offers COLAs then both the employees and employer should have paid more. A one percent COLA for retirees would cost $221 million. The budget cannot sustain that. We are still paying for previous COLAs. They cost us over $one billion and estimates as high as $2 billion.”

“We have to have a funding source,” Poole said. “If we granted a COLA today that would increase the unfunded liability on the retirement system.”

State Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, dismissed a Senate proposal to offer a one time bonus for retirees with a conditional appropriations a: “Hoax the money was not there.”

Poole said a conditional appropriation is against the law

State Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Munford, spoke in favor of COLAs for retirees.

“We want to do everything that we can do, so that they will be strong for the kids,” Hurst said.

Hurst also spoke against Charter schools because he said the money follows the child, and that decreases the amount of money to the public school they left.

Hurst also spoke against the “failing schools” list because that tags will follow the students.

Hurst said most people in Alabama favor starting the school year on Labor day and ending it on Memorial Day.

Poole agreed that it is time to revisit the school year.

The House ETF budget included a $26.8 million increase in to expand Alabama’s voluntary First Class Pre-K program and help ensure its teachers receive a pay raise at the same level as other public school educators.

The House-approved version of the budget brings the overall amount of funding for First Class Pre-K (Office of School Readiness) to $122.8 million. The increase will enable the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education to create around 200 additional classrooms and raise the total percentage of four-year-old children enrolled in the program from 32 to nearly 40 percent.

The Alabama School Readiness Alliance’s business-led Pre-K Task Force applauded the vote.

“Today’s vote shows that Governor Ivey, the Alabama State Senate and the Alabama House of Representatives are all in agreement that our state should provide more families with the opportunity to voluntarily enroll their child in the nation’s highest quality pre-kindergarten program,” said Bob Powers and Mike Luce, co-chairs of the Alabama School Readiness Alliance Pre-K Task Force in a statement. “We would like to thank Chairman Poole and his committee for prioritizing additional pre-k funding in this year’s budget.”

The ASRA Pre-K Task Force consists of more than 60 prominent leaders from the business, education, civic, medical, legal, philanthropic, military and child advocacy communities.

The House passed their own version of SB199 so it must go back to the Senate. The Senate is expected to non-concur. The two bodies must work out their differences in the Education Trust Fund budget in a conference committee before it can go to Gov. Kay Ivey for her signature.


Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.



Selma residents will discuss renaming Edmund Pettus Bridge at Aug. 7 virtual event

Micah Danney



The historic Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

A group of Selma residents, in response to the latest push to rename the Edmund Pettus Bridge, has organized and will host a virtual town hall meeting to discuss the proposal.

The forum can be viewed live on the Facebook page of the Selma Matters Campaign on Aug. 7 at 6 p.m. The group encouraged members of the public to attend.

The event will include “leaders from across the country who bring a wealth of knowledge to the various aspects of considering the name change” and will feature Selma locals, including “foot soldiers” of the Civil Rights movement. It will be moderated by LaTosha Brown, a Selma native and co-founder of Black Voters Matter, and Bernard LaFayette, Civil Rights activist and co-founder of the Selma Center for Nonviolence, Truth, and Reconciliation.

There have been several initiatives launched over the years to rename the bridge, which bears the name of a Confederate general and reputed grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. The current push is by The John Lewis Bridge Project, a nonprofit formed to rename the bridge in honor of the late Rep. John Lewis, who led the historic march for voting rights across the bridge and into the batons and fists of white State Troopers and deputized citizens in 1965.

The nonprofit was formed in June, when Lewis was ailing with cancer. Lewis had responded to a previous attempt to rename the bridge in his honor by politely declining it in an editorial. His office did not comment when the current initiative was announced.

Residents of Selma, some of whom were on the bridge in 1965, or had relatives who were, have resisted efforts to rename it. Some argue that its name has become synonymous with the struggle for political and human rights that made it famous. It’s a landmark in the global landscape of freedom struggle sites, and is under consideration for UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

The latest petition had a goal of 500,000 signatures. It has surpassed that since Lewis died, and the goal was increased to 1 million signatures.

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“In recognizing this rising effort, the Selma Matters Campaign has dedicated its focus on ensuring the citizens of Selma are given the opportunity to voice their opinions and not be left out of the decision-making process that directly impacts Selma,” the group said in a statement.

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Exposure notification app for college students launches pilot phase

Micah Danney



Screen captures of the GuideSafe application. (UAB)

College students across Alabama and anyone with a .edu email address are being invited to participate in an anonymous Exposure Notification System app for iPhone and Android users. The app launched in a closed pilot phase on Monday that will allow up to 10,000 downloads for each phone type.

The app is part of the GuideSafe platform, a suite of tools designed to help people reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus. It features a tool called HealthCheck, which allows users to report COVID-19 symptoms, and another called Event Passport, which uses an algorithm to assess whether a person is safe to attend a gathering of 10 or more people or not based on the responses they log in HealthCheck. 

The GuideSafe platform encompasses the Stay Safe Together and Testing for Alabama initiatives. Participation is voluntary and designed to protect users’ privacy while anonymously alerting each user to potential exposure to someone who has tested positive in the last 14 days. The exposure notification system assigns random numbers to each user to keep them anonymous to each other and to the system.

The app will be made available for mass public download later this month after the pilot phase ends and the app’s performance is assessed.

GuideSafe is the largest-scale testing initiative for higher education in the nation. It uses exposure notification technology developed jointly by Google and Apple.

Alabama is one of the first states to launch the technology, which is part of the state’s program for safe entry to campuses of higher education. Gov. Kay Ivey allocated more than $30 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding for the plan.

The pilot app was built by the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Birmingham-based MotionMobs, in partnership with the Alabama Department of Public Health.

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“We have worked extremely hard to leverage research and innovation, community service, patient care and education to make a positive difference in this pandemic,” said UAB President Ray L. Watts. “This new app – using Google- and Apple-led technology and created by UAB faculty, staff and MotionMobs for the people of Alabama – is a necessary tool in our effort to return to college campuses safely this fall.”

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Governor announces $100 million internet voucher program for students

The governor has allocated for the program $100 million of the state’s $435 million in federal CARES act funds to help the state safeguard schools amid the growing spread of COVID-19. 

Eddie Burkhalter




Gov. Kay Ivey on Friday announced a program to increase internet access for K-12 students for distance learning as the start of the new school year approaches. 

The project, called Alabama Broadband Connectivity (ABC) for Students, will provide vouchers for families of students who are eligible for free and reduced lunches “or other income criteria,” according to a press release from Ivey’s office. The vouchers will pay for equipment and services for high-speed internet from the fall through Dec. 31. 

Ivey has allocated for the program $100 million of the state’s $435 million in federal CARES act funds to help the state safeguard schools amid the growing spread of COVID-19. 

The funds will be used to expand internet access by providing “equipment and service for broadband, wireless hot spots, satellite, fixed wireless, DSL, and cellular-on-wheels,” according to Ivey’s office. 

“Despite the upheavals in our lives during the past few months and at least into the near future, children must be able to continue their classroom instruction,” Ivey said in a statement. “This funding will expand internet access to allow more students to access distance learning while creating smaller classes in schools that provide those options and will also ensure their safety during the pandemic. While I respect those districts that have elected to use remote learning, I fear that a slide will come by keeping our kids at home. These funds will bridge the gap until all students can get back into the classroom as soon as possible.”

Families with children who receive free or reduced school lunch are to receive a mailed letter in August, and a website to assist Alabamians with questions as the program nears its launch can be found here.

“Once again, we are appreciative of the leadership and resources provided by Governor Ivey during this unprecedented time in our country’s history. More than ever before, the immediate need for broadband infrastructure, devices, and connectivity are an integral part of providing Alabama students with a quality education,” said Eric Mackey, Alabama superintendent of education, in a statement. “A huge part of evening the playing field to provide greater equity in educational services will come from closing the digital divide between varying Alabama communities. We still have a lot of work to do, but because of the resources provided by Gov. Ivey, we can head into what we know will be a challenging school year with greater optimism.”  

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The funds are to be administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, which has partnered with Maryland-based CTC Technology & Energy for the project. 

“We have learned in the past several months that internet connectivity is a necessity for everything from education to healthcare and working remotely. I am pleased that Alabama is going to enter into this private-public partnership to make internet access available to those low-income households who cannot currently afford it. Economic status should not be a determining factor in receiving quality education, and it should not bar anyone from the ability to access vital online services,” said Sen. Del Marsh, president pro tem of the State Senate, in a statement. “Although this is only a temporary solution, I am confident that it will be a bridge to a time when fiber is put in the ground and access to the internet and devices will become standard across Alabama.”

According to Ivey’s office, the plan was drafted with the input from the Broadband Working Group, a group Ivey announced the creation of on June 25, which is composed of legislators and industry experts who are to provide to guidance on the state’s spending of $1.9 billion in CARES Act funds. 


“I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of Governor Ivey’s working group to utilize federal funds in the CARES Act to provide broadband access to all Alabama students regardless of income. I think Governor Ivey has a good plan,” said Rep. Randall Shedd, a member of the working group and a leader of the Rural Caucus. 

Mackey said last week that approximately half of the state’s K-12 students will begin school by learning virtually for a period of time. A lack of internet connectivity in many homes is a major concern for school administrators who face the challenge of providing education to students when new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to increase in Alabama. 

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Jones urges USDA to extend waiver program for school meals amid COVID-19

Eddie Burkhalter




Unless the U.S. Department of Agriculture extends a waiver program, set to expire at the start of school, thousands of Alabama’s schoolchildren without transportation to school and who are learning remotely could miss out on school meals.  

U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, and dozens of other senators on Wednesday urged the USDA to extend vouchers that provide critical meals to children during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has forced schools around the country to close their buildings and shift instruction to online and distance-learning models,” the senators wrote in a letter to USDA. “For many children, school breakfast and lunch may be the only healthy and regular meals they receive.”

The economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has cost millions of parents their jobs, the senators wrote, and millions more students will be dependent on school-provided meals. 

“School meal program directors must begin procuring food, equipment, and supplies and placing orders now in preparation for the upcoming school year,” the letter continues. 

The waivers have allowed students to receive free meals when learning remotely, and the meals could be delivered to areas when transportation wasn’t available for students. 

State Superintendent Eric Mackey during a press briefing hosted by Jones on July 24 said “we do not anticipate that waiver being extended by the United States Department of Agriculture.” 

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Mackey said those waivers allowed for the delivery of meals to students who couldn’t come to school to pick the food up, and it allowed for the serving of bulk items, such as milk by the gallon. That all goes away if the USDA does not extend the waivers, he said. 

“Essentially, they will have to come to school to get the meals,” Mackey said. 

Mackey said last week that about half of the state’s K-12 students will be learning remotely for a period of time once school begins.


The senators are urging the USDA to extend those waivers to help ensure low-income students can get school-provided meals throughout the upcoming school year. The senators also called on the USDA to reimburse schools for the transportation costs for delivering meals to low-income students.  

“While many school meal programs are managing these costs for the time-being, they cannot continue absorbing them for the foreseeable future. We ask that the USDA make additional funds available to schools to assist with the cost of delivering meals to low-income students until regular school operations are restored,” the letter continues. 

Senators in the letter asked the USDA to extend the following waivers: 

  • Unexpected School Closures Waiver 
  • Afterschool Activity Waiver
  • Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program Parent Pick-Up Waiver
  • Waiver of Child Nutrition Monitoring
  • Waiver of Food Management Company Contract Duration Requirements
  • Waiver of Local School Wellness Assessments
  • Area Eligibility Waiver
  • Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) Waivers

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