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Legislature passes largest education budget in state history despite COVID-19 economic crisis


Saturday the Alabama State Senate approves the largest education budget in the history of the state. The budget was passed that morning with a bipartisan 31 to 0 vote just two days after the Alabama House of Representatives passed the budget. The Senate did make minor changes to the House budget, but the House voted to concur with those changes Saturday afternoon on a 73 to 1 vote.

Senator Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, is the Chairman of the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee.

This year, despite all the turmoil and chaos, we are on track to have the largest budget ever passed for education in this state, while also spending an amount far less than initial projections.”

“At the forefront of this budget is the $30 million spent on early grade child reading which will become an educational foundation for students across the state,” said Sen. Orr. “This year, despite all the turmoil and chaos, we are on track to have the largest budget ever passed for education in this state, while also spending an amount far less than initial projections.”

The 2021 ETF budget increases the money budgets for the Community College System $12 million, several million for the Department of Early Childhood Education, $50 million for the State Department of Education, and $16 million directly to be distributed to the local school districts.

“We were able to craft the largest education budget in our state’s history,” said Sen. Orr. “This legislation puts education first and I’m grateful to my colleagues in the House for their help in creating this budget. This is a budget we can all be proud of that takes into account the educational needs of our state while also spending conservatively during these uncertain times.”

“This is the largest education budget in state history and it is a good budget,” said Senate President Pro Tem. Del Marsh, R-Anniston. “It was important to give our teachers and administrators something to work with as they plan for the next school year before we got deeper into the summer. 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 despite a difficult situation. Every Senator should be proud of this budget and the support it provides for our teachers and students.”

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“This is a banner day for education,” said Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed, R-Jasper. “Despite the current situation, we now have the largest education budget in Alabama history that puts teachers, students and administrators first. A strong system of education is the foundation of a thriving state, and the fact that we are able to pass this budget without cuts or proration is a testament to the sound principles with which the Republican controlled Senate operates. I want to thank Senator Orr and the members of the education budget committee for their work on a budget we can all be proud to support.”

None of the money allocated was from the federal government, Sen. Orr predicted that some federal monies will be made available to educational institutions across the state due to the COVID-19 crisis that has already killed 80,056 Americans, including 340 Alabamians thru Sunday morning.

The coronavirus shelter in place order has been lifted and starting on Monday, bars, restaurant dining rooms, gyms, barbershops, nail salons, beauty shops, etc. may reopen. Orr expressed concerns that there could be a second shutdown later in the year if the coronavirus were to flair up worse and the effect that that would have on state budgets.

Marsh has said that a second closing of the schools is one reason why he wants to accelerate efforts to expand broadband across the state. “All of our citizens needs access to online learning and telehealth.” Marsh said that this crisis has made that very clear. Marsh has proposed spending federal coronavirus dollars on broadband expansion. Marsh said that he hopes that the state legislature will address this in a special session once we receive guidance from the federal government on how $1.8 billion in CARES Act money the states has received may be used.

The Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 starts October 1. Alabama has an arcane budgeting system where over 90 percent of the money is earmarked to specific pots of money and $billions flow into state agencies outside of the budget process.

The ETF is the budget for education and the State General Fund (SGF) is the budget for approximately 80 state agencies, the largest of these being Medicaid and Corrections. The House passed the SGF on Thursday and the Senate voted to concur. That has been sent to the governor along with a supplemental appropriations bill for the 2020 budget. The ETF was sent to the Governor on Saturday. This concludes most of the business that the state Legislature will conduct in the coronavirus shortened 2020 regular session. The Legislature will return for one last session on May 18 in case the Governor were to veto or amend one of the budgets or one of the myriad of local bills passed by the Legislature this week. It only takes a simple majority of the Legislature to override a gubernatorial veto under Alabama law.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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