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Legislature passes largest education budget in state history

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a $7.1 billion education budget Thursday. The 2020 fiscal year Education Trust Fund budget is the largest in state history.

Both Houses of the Alabama Legislature approved the conference committee report on the budget on Friday, just hours before ending the 2019 regular session.

The final ETF budget for 2020 totals $7,113,109,253. The 2019 budget was just $6,621.280,483. The Legislature is anticipating an increase in revenues of $491,828,770. Last year, the Legislature had over $280 million in extra revenues that was spent in two supplemental appropriations bills.

The ETF budget includes a 4 percent raise for all education workers.

Teachers’ salaries had been flat for years following the Great Recession. That, recession-related layoffs and frugal school boards laying off young teachers before they could get tenure resulted in much fewer young people choosing education as a profession they wanted to be in. This has caused a teacher shortage. The Legislature raised teacher pay last year but felt the need to follow that with the 4 percent raise to try to improve teacher recruitment and retention efforts in a much more robust economy.

The budget also includes more money for pre-K classrooms. On Thursday, Ivey announced the state would be adding 164 new pre -K classrooms.

“Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program is truly the model of the nation,” Ivey said. “By adding 164 classrooms, we are ensuring more of our youngest learners are getting a strong start to their educational journeys, which will lead them to an even stronger finish in their careers. Other states across the country want to emulate what we are doing with early childhood education here in Alabama, and much of that is thanks to the tremendous leadership of Secretary Jeana Ross.”

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For a few highlights of the 2020 fiscal year ETF budget:

$64,328.146 is appropriated to the Alabama Department of Commerce. $49,522,811 of that is for workforce development.

The Alabama Community College System received an appropriation for $416,931,242, which includes $12,533,615 for prison education.

The Legislative branch of state government will receive $18,869,836, up substantially from the $12,574,578 they received in 2019. Much of that increase is for new line items for a Pilot Program Appropriation Bill Drafting System $3,755,000, $200,000 for software and public hearings for the 2020 Census and $750,000 for a State Department of Education Evaluation and Reorganization Study.

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs received a new line item in the ETF for $26 million, and $20 million of that is for the Rural Broadband grant Program, while $5 million is for a new Research and Development Grant Program.

The State Department of Education itself is getting $251,723.084 a $34,203,365 increase from last year. That includes $800,000 for the State Charter Schools Commission, which is up from $200,000 last year but down from the $1.4 million the Senate had requested in their budget. The governor had requested just $200,000 for the commission in her budget. The larger items in the SDE budget includes $19,405,117 for the statewide student assessment, $51,299,601 for the Alabama Reading Initiative, $30,299,318 for the Alabama Math and Science Initiative, $24,381,092 for Department O&M, $20,165768 for distance learning, $53,851,158 for the Financial Assistance Program, $5,623,062 for the pre-school program for special education — which received a $4 million increase, $11,427,424 for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, $2,759,080 for teacher in-service centers, $8,112,239 for the Career Tech Initiative, $2,398,919 for teacher professional development training, $3,750,000 for the gifted students program, $8,440,628 for the teacher’s liability insurance program and $7,980,287 for the Governor’s Hope for Alabama Students.

The state is spending $35,032,715 for debt service out of the ETF.

The Educational Television Commission is receiving $8,952,810.

The State Executive Commission Community Service Grants is getting $14,031,798

The Alabama School of Fine Arts is receiving $8,647,417.

The Fire College and Firefighters Standards and Education Commission is getting $5,248,437.

The Alabama Department of Public Health has been appropriated $16,551.167 out of the ETF.

The Alabama Commission on Higher Education is receiving $40,630,027. The largest earmarks in the ACHE funding are $17,839,237 for student financial aid programs, $7,115,120 for support for other state programs, $5,216,083 for the Alabama Agricultural Land Grant Alliance and $2,552,915 for support for other educational activities and programs.

The Alabama Historical Commission has a $2,042,038 appropriation from the education trust fund.

The Department of Human Resources has an ETF appropriation of $31,424,165.

The Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention received $2,505,232.

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency has an ETF appropriation of just $580,242 for school safety training.

The Alabama Public Library Service receives $12,880,391 from the ETF.

The lieutenant governor has received a new ETF appropriation of $250,000 for his Commission on the 21st Century Workforce.

The Marine Environmental Science Consortium/Dauphin Island Sea Lab has an appropriation for $5,203,025.

The Alabama Department of Mental Health has an ETF appropriation of $56,865,882. That includes $47,061,719 for the institutional care for the intellectually disabled and $5,448,163 for the institutional care for the mentally ill.

The Alabama School of Math and Science is receiving a 2020 appropriation of $8,647,417.

The Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services receives $48,476,518.

The Alabama Department of Youth Services has an appropriation for $57,154,071.

The colleges and universities will receive $1,203,909,819 in this budget. That is their largest appropriation since the Great Recession but still trails their 2008 level of state support.

The settlement with the PACT program parents is going to cost the state $60,738,300 in the 2020 budget. The parents and their attorneys argued that the program was misrepresented as prepaid college tuition and not a risky investment scheme. After 2024, those settlement payments should start to decrease.

The state is supporting the Southern Research Institute, the Hudson Alpha Institute for Biotechnology and the Neurology Research Project at $1,000,000 each in 2020.

The state is supporting private schools at just $1,284,437 in a separate appropriation from this budget. Those schools are Lyman Ward $357,290 and Talladega College $927,147.

The governor had requested that the ETF fund a portion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program as the federal government has passed more costs of the program to the states. The governor requested $36 million for CHIP. The legislature rejected that plan and CHIP is being funded out of the $2.1 billion state general fund budget instead. The full cost of CHIP is expected to be in excess of $110 million in 2021.

The Department of Early Childhood, which is over the pre-K program received a substantial boost in this budget. Early childhood received $98,977,756 in the 2019 budget. This budget raises that to $127,265,130. That is an increase of $28,287,374, 28.6 percent. This will allow the state to add many more pre-K classrooms going forward.

Local school boards will also receive more money in this budget. Local K-12 education will receive a 2020 appropriation of $4,397,357,999. They received $4,170,480,632 in the 2019 budget. That is a $226,877,367 increase 5.44 percent increase. Transportation received a major boost in funding to $375,781,440. The school nursing program will receive $32,993,095. School libraries will receive a one-time enhancement of $6,000,000. The at-risk student program was cut from $20,267,734 to $19,517,734

U.S. News and World Report recently ranked the state dead last in education and 49th in pre-K through grade 12 education.

The House Ways and Means Education Committee is chaired by State Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa.

“This is a positive budget for the state,” Poole said. “But I want to emphasize that money alone will not solve all of the problems in the Alabama education system.

The conference committee report on the education budget passed the House of Representatives with a unanimous vote.

The governor signed the budget on Thursday. The fiscal year 2020 budget goes into effect on Oct. 1 of this year. If the state were to fail to meet that $7.1 billion revenue projection, then the governor would either have to tap the rainy day fund or prorate the budget.

For the sake of brevity, this is an overview of the budget and does not include every line item, earmark and appropriation — just the highlights.

 

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.

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Marsh’s budget hearing compared to revenge porn

Bill Britt

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Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, has scheduled a general fund budget hearing for early July — purportedly to prepare for the 2021 Legislative Session that begins in February.

But that is not the real reason for the budget hearing, according to Senate insiders who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid provoking Marsh. The actual purpose of public hearings, according to multiple sources, is to try to find a way to embarrass Gov. Kay Ivey.

In a press release from his office, Marsh says the budget meetings will focus on funding prison reform and rural broadband.

However, an agenda circulated for a July 9 budget committee meeting obtained by APR makes no mention of broadband and focuses entirely on the Ivey administration’s spending.

In the press release, Marsh said that the budget hearing is needed to address “a potential $2 billion-dollar prison reform proposal.”

But according to the Governor’s Office and published reports about Ivey’s prison reform plan, there is no mention of a $2 billion proposal as Marsh claims.

He also states that the other reason for the hearings is to address “a stunning lack of rural broadband investment.” However, broadband is not an item on the agenda.

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Marsh’s enmity toward Ivey was on full display in the days after the governor revealed his “Wish list” in May, to spend federal relief money on a variety of projects only vaguely related to the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to those who regularly interact with the Senate, he is still angry that Ivey exposed his plan to appropriate nearly $1.9 billion in federal relief money to finance pet projects, which included spending $200 million on a new State House.

The money the state received under the CARES Act was to be allocated to shore up business, citizens’ interests and institutions ravage by the shutdown due to the spread of COVID-19.

First, Marsh denied the existence of a “wish list,” then he said Ivey asked for it, and finally, he took ownership of the list and said he thought $200 million for a new State House is a “good idea.”

For weeks after the debacle, Marsh aided by some Senate Republicans tried to spin what happened without success.

Marsh had also wanted to use $800 million in CARES Act funds to build out rural broadband and had reportedly hoped to use the budget meeting to push his broadband plan forward.

Ivey blocked his plan to use CARES Act funds for pork projects and convinced the Legislature to reject Marsh’s preferred budget in favor of Ivey’s executive amendment.

“First Ivey made him look greedy and foolish and then she turned most of the Legislature against him,” said one of APR‘s sources.

Recently, Ivey was once again a step ahead of Marsh when just days after he announced his July budget hearings to consider broadband expansion, Ivey released her plan to spend $300 million on rural broadband, stealing his thunder.

According to APR‘s Senate sources, Ivey’s latest move was another blow to Marsh’s ego.

“Del, [Marsh] has power, but he’s never had to deal with a governor who knows how to counter him,” said another Senate insider.

Another regular observer of Marsh said, his latest move to hold budget hearings is akin to “revenge porn.”

“She dumped him, and now he wants to get even, sounds a lot like revenge porn to me,” the source said.

At the July hearing, Ivey Administration officials will be questioned on CARES Act spending, budgets for the department of corrections and pardons and parole.

Finance Director, Kelly Butler, will testify to what CARES funds have been spent and what remains.

ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn will be queried on several issues, including hiring, overtime pay, prison construction, and Holman prison’s status and personnel.

Pardons and Paroles Commissioner, Charles Graddick, will face the committee to discuss personnel costs, equipment purchases with an “emphasis upon computers, software, vehicles, office furniture and other substantial expenditures,” according to the document.

Lastly, the committee will question Personnel Department Director, Jackie Graham, to give an account for DOC and ABP&P personnel growth plans.

While it is wholly within the Legislature’s purview to approve and exercise oversight of government spending, this is not what the budget hearings are about according to APR’s sources.

According to several Senate insiders and others with knowledge of Marsh’s thinking, this is a move to paint Ivey’s administration as “out of control on spending.”

“This is a trap Marsh hopes to use for PR, but what if there’s nothing to see, how does he spin it,” asked an individual with close ties to the administration. “She’s kicked his tail before; she’ll likely do it again,” the source said.

 

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House

Senate pro tem requests general fund committee begin hearings in July

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Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, announced today that he has asked Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee Chairman Greg Albritton, R-Range, to begin holding General Fund Committee meetings in preparation for the next session.

In an effort to be better prepared because of uncertainty in state revenue as a result of COVID-19 pandemic Senator Albritton has agreed with Senator Marsh and has invited Legislative Services, the Department of Finance, Pardons and Paroles, Corrections and the Personnel Department to provide updates to the committee.

“Typically, we begin this process closer to sessions however because of uncertainty about state income and possibility of special sessions, we felt like it was important to get started much earlier than usual in this process,” Senator Albritton said. “The Legislature has done an excellent job managing our budgets over the past few years. So much so that Alabama was able to weather the storm of the COVID-19 shutdown this year with little impact to our vital state services. We understand that we will not have final revenue projections until after July 15th, but we must continue to do our due diligence and ensure that we use taxpayer money sensibly.”

“We want to make sure that all public money is being used wisely, now and in the future,” Senator Marsh said. “We have many pressing issues facing the state such as a potential $2 billion-dollar prison reform proposal and a stunning lack of rural broadband investment which need to be addressed whenever the Legislature is back in session and it is our duty to make sure we are prepared and kept up to speed on these matters. Furthermore, the taxpayers deserve a clear and transparent view of how their money is being used.”

The hearings are scheduled to begin July 9 in the Alabama State House.

 

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Governor

Part-time employee in lieutenant governor’s office tests positive for COVID-19

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A part-time employee in Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth’s office, who the office said works only a handful of hours each week, tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday, according to a press statement.

The employee, whose work area is separated from the rest of the staff, last worked in the office on the morning of Thursday, June 18.

All members of the office staff have been tested or are in the process of being tested for COVID-19 in response, and, thus far, no additional positive results have been reported.

In addition, the State House suite has been thoroughly cleaned and will remain closed until all employees’ test results have been returned.

Employees are working remotely from home, and phones are being answered in order to continue providing services to the citizens who need them.

 

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Legislature

Alabama Democrats call for Rep. Will Dismukes to resign over support for Confederacy

Eddie Burkhalter

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Updated at 8 p.m. to include a response from Rep. Will Dismukes.

The executive director of the Alabama Democratic Party on Friday called for the resignation of a Republican state representative over his support for the Confederacy, Confederate monuments and his membership in a local Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter. 

The Alabama Democratic Party — in a statement released Friday — said that Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Pratville, is receiving criticism for his support of the lost Confederate cause and “as elected officials of all stripes seek to move Alabama forward, Dismukes is stuck in the past.” 

“Rep. Dismukes, Chaplain of the ‘Prattville Dragoons: Sons of Confederate Veterans,’ was recently praised in the group’s newsletter as being representative of the Confederacy’s ‘Godly heritage,'” the press release states.

“We need elected officials who work for a better tomorrow for all Alabamians,” said Wade Perry, executive director of Alabama Democratic Party, in a statement.  “That should go without saying. If little Will wants to play dress-up and pretend to fight for the lost cause, he should resign. His job is to pass laws that help Alabamians, not honor folks who fought to preserve the institution of slavery.”

Dismukes in a Facebook post later on Friday addressed the call for his resignation, and said he’d neither resign nor apologize for the photo in which he was standing in front of the American and Confederate flags.

“I will release an official statement tomorrow. No worries I’m not resigning because the Democratic Chairman requested my resignation. I also will not be apologizing over a picture in front of the flags nor being chaplain of my local SCV camp which is listed as a heritage group by the SPLC,” Dismukes wrote in his post. “We have enough people caving to the communist left. For the love of life it’s time for people to stop being so sensitive and apologetic and take a stand before our country is Gone with the Wind. This is way bigger than history and monuments. Deo Vindice.”

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Dismukes’s use of the phrase “Deo Vindice” — in his post Friday, and in other posts on his social media — is notable. The phrase was selected by the Confederacy as a motto, and translates to “God will vindicate,” according to the Museum of American History.

In an interview on WVNN’s “The Jeff Poor Show,” Dismukes was critical of a recommendation by House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, to stop using tax money to fund the Confederate Memorial Park in Chilton County.

The Alabama Historical Commission receives about $600,000 annually to run the park, according to Al.com. 

“I think he’s dead wrong. I don’t think it would be a wise decision for our state to move in that direction,” Dismukes said during the program, as quoted by Yellowhammer News.

In a Facebook post on June 14, Dismukes called for more funding for the Confederate Memorial Park.  “No chance we stop funding the State Park!!! This will not happen on my watch,” he wrote.

“We technically give a small portion of what is actually supposed to go towards the park. If anything we should give more to the park and ensure our history is preserved,” Dismukes wrote in the post. 

In an April 27 Facebook post, Dismukes refers to the Civil War as the “War of Northern Aggression.” In several other Facebook posts, he references and quotes the national motto of the failed Confederacy, “Deo Vindice.”

In another Facebook post, Dismukes is seen standing in front of a Confederate flag, wearing a shirt with a Confederate flag patch while celebrating “Confederate Flag Day.”

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, protests against police brutality have resulted in calls for policies to address systemic racism and for Confederate monuments to come down, and across the South and in Alabama many have already been removed. Monuments in Mobile, Birmingham and Montgomery have come down. 

The National Trust for Historic Preservation on Thursday released a statement calling for the removal of Confederate monuments, most of which the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit said “were intended to serve as a celebration of Lost Cause mythology and to advance the ideas of white supremacy.” 

“Many of them still stand as symbols of those ideologies and sometimes serve as rallying points for bigotry and hate today. To many African Americans, they continue to serve as constant and painful reminders that racism is embedded in American society,” the nonprofit said in a statement.

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