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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.

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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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Corruption

Former State Sen. David Burkette pleads guilty, avoids jail

Josh Moon

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Former Alabama Sen. David Burkette

Former State Sen. David Burkette will avoid jail time and be sentenced to a 30-day suspended sentence as part of a plea deal reached on Monday. 

Burkette, who pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Fair Campaign Practices Act, will also have to pay a $3,000 fine and serve 12 months of probation as part of the deal. He was sentenced in Montgomery Circuit Court on Monday after being charged two weeks ago with failing to deposit more than $3,600 in contributions into campaign accounts — a misdemeanor.

He also resigned his seat in the Alabama Senate as part of the plea deal. 

“I’m just happy to still be here,” Burkette told the court following his sentencing, according to multiple media reports. 

The former senator suffered a stroke in 2018 and has been confined to a wheelchair since. His current health status played a role in his sentence considerations. 

The charges against Burkette stem from a series of complaints filed against him with the Alabama Ethics Commission — all of them related to various issues during his time on the Montgomery City Council. The charge for which he pleaded guilty occurred in 2015.

The Ethics Commission referred numerous charges to the Alabama attorney general’s office, according to sources familiar with the investigation of Burkette, but the attorney general’s office elected to charge Burkette with only the misdemeanor as part of the deal that saw him resign. 

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“Candidates for public office at the state, county and municipal levels must comply with the State’s Fair Campaign Practices Act,” said Attorney General Steve Marshall. “Personally profiting from campaign funds erodes public confidence in the system and will not be tolerated.”

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Legislature

Former state senator arrested on charges of violating campaign finance laws

Josh Moon

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Former State Sen. David Burkette

David Burkette has been officially arrested. The former state senator from Montgomery, who resigned on Tuesday as part of a plea deal with the Alabama Attorney General’s Office, was formally charged on Thursday with a single misdemeanor count of violating the Fair Campaign Practices Act. 

According to a press release from the AG’s office, Burkette’s charge stems from him depositing campaign donations into his personal account instead of into his campaign accounts, as required by the FCPA. The alleged crimes occurred in 2015 and 2016 when Burkette was serving on the Montgomery City Council. 

The complaint alleged that, in 2015 and 2016 while running for the Montgomery City Council, Burkette intentionally failed to deposit $3,625.00 in campaign contributions into his campaign checking account, and instead, deposited or cashed those contributions into or against his personal bank account,” the AG’s release stated. 

The single misdemeanor charge is surprising given the lengthy list of allegations against Burkette submitted to the Alabama Ethics Commission. APR obtained a copy of the original report, which was submitted in October 2018. 

In addition to more than $40,000 in allegedly improperly spent council discretionary funds that were flagged by auditors for the city of Montgomery, Burkette was also accused of inappropriately donating tens of thousands more to suspect charities and two sororities, including his wife’s.

The Ethics Commission referred Burkette’s case to the AG’s Office in October 2019.

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Legislature

Pro-Growth Conference kicks off with Doug Jones, discussions on COVID impact and a living wage

Josh Moon

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Sen. Doug Jones speaks on the floor of the U.S. Senate. (VIA CSPAN)

What happens if you just give impoverished citizens $500 per month — no strings attached? Good things, it turns out. The people use that income to buy food, medicine and basic necessities for life. They take a day off work if they’re sick and actually get treatment. They quit a second, hourly-wage job that they are overqualified for and instead work towards obtaining a better, higher-paying primary job. 

These are things that the city of Stockton, California, has learned in its year-long living wage program.

The program, while limited in size — only 125 people — has proven to be a larger success than city officials had hoped, and it has opened their eyes to a new, more proactive style of governance, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs told Alabama elected officials. 

Tubbs was the featured speaker on Tuesday at the first day of the Pro-Growth Policy Conference, a three-day forum for Alabama elected leaders with guest speakers from around the country offering tips and best practices. 

The first day of the conference began with an opening talk from Sen. Doug Jones, who pressed the need for Medicaid expansion and how expansion has aided other red states. Jones also highlighted the need for broadband expansion and talked about a bill he has in the Senate that would create a broadband main office and dish out about $20 million in money for affordable access.

“Now (with COVID), we know how needed it really is,” Jones said. “We see the homework gap that we have. We know there’s a need for more telemedicine. My bill would consolidate in one office all of the monies for broadband … and provide affordable access.”

Jones said the current COVID pandemic has highlighted just how badly we need better access to broadband in Alabama, and a major area of concern right now is healthcare. 

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Highlighting that point, Brandon Garrett, the chief operating officer of the National Minority Quality Forum, and Dr. LaTasha Lee, the vice-president of social and clinical research, demonstrated the many ways in which inequality in health care and health care options is harming impoverished communities. 

A number of factors play into that inequality, but a lack of access to updated means of communication and tools is one of the biggest. 

“(Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) said that, ‘Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane because it results in physical death,’” Lee said. “That’s what we’re seeing currently with COVID-19 and sickle cell disease. These two diseases are affecting the minority community and causing death, and they make a great argument that such health care disparities really are a social justice issue.”

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Correcting such issues was one of the goals of Stockton’s living wage experiment. Now, Tubbs said, a working person can afford to stay home or get tested if they’re feeling symptomatic, whereas before that person — scared of missing a paycheck or losing the job altogether — might come to work with the virus and infect an entire workplace. 

That alone, Tubbs said, has restored dignity to a number of residents. 

“This is not easy, especially with budgets the way they are,” Tubbs said. “But I don’t know how we continue to live with the status quo as it is.

“I think part of being a leader, as we are, is having the courage to do something about what we’re seeing. We have to be able to do that.”

The Pro-Growth Policy Conference will run both Wednesday and Thursday, 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Wednesday’s round of conferences will focus on state grants, economic development around the state and what the 2021 legislative session might look like. 

On Thursday, the event will wrap up with talks by the Equal Justice Initiative’s Bryan Stevenson and Alabama Congresswoman Terri Sewell.

 

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Elections

Russell Bedsole wins Republican runoff in HD49

Brandon Moseley

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House District 49 Republican nominee Russell Bedsole

As of press time, it appears that Russell Bedsole has won a narrow victory over Mimi Penhale in the special Republican primary runoff election in Alabama House District 49.

At press time, Bedsole had a 166-vote lead in unofficial results on the secretary of state’s website.

“We won,” Bedsole declared on social media.

Bedsole is an Alabaster city councilman and a Shelby County Sheriff’s Department captain.

“Sadly, tonight did not turn out in my favor. Despite the loss, I feel like God truly used this opportunity to help me grow in my walk with Him, and gave me the opportunity to increase my testimony,” Penhale said. “I feel so incredibly blessed by the people I have met on this campaign and the experiences I have had. I am disappointed in the outcome, but what an honor it is to have the confidence of 1,183 people across House District 49! Thank you!!”

Russell Bedsole had 1,249 votes, or 51.36 percent, to Mimi Penhale’s 1,183, or 48.64 percent, to win the House District 49 Republican primary runoff.

There were just 2,432 votes cast in the special primary runoff election. Shelby County was the decisive factor in the election. Bedsole won Shelby County with 762 votes, or 71.42 percent, to Penale’s 305 votes.

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Penhale carried Chilton and Bibb Counties, but could not overcome Bedsole’s strong performance in Shelby County.

The provisional ballots will be counted on Sept. 8, 2020, and certification of votes will occur on Sept. 16, 2020.

Bedsole will face Democratic nominee Sheryl Patton in the special general election on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020.

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The vacancy in House District 49 was created when State Rep. April Weaver announced her resignation to accept a presidential appointment as a regional director in the Department of Health and Human Services.

In a statement, the Alabama Republican Party thanked “each of the candidates that qualified for offering themselves up for service in the Alabama State House of Representatives.”

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