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Senate committee passes $7.7 billion education budget

The $7.7 billion FY 2022 ETF is actually the largest education budget in state history.

(STOCK PHOTO)

Tuesday the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee passed the 2022 fiscal year education trust fund budget (ETF). This year’s ETF is $7,672,576,573.

$5,270,033,944 will go to fund K-12; while $1.954,459,139 go to higher ed. $448,083,492 go to other items. The 2022 fiscal year begins on October 1.

The budget itself is Senate Bill189, which is sponsored by Finance and Taxation Education Committee Chairman Arthur Orr, R-Decatur. The budget however is part of a package of bills that together make up the actual education spending package.

Surprising many, the COVID-19 crisis has not really hurt the education budget. The $7.7 billion FY 2022 ETF is actually the largest education budget in state history. This trend was also seen in the state general fund budget (SGF) which reached $2.4 billion. Education received an increase of $455,154,085 or ~5.93 percent.

The governor had asked for a significant raise for education employees in 2021. Those raises were scrapped after the COVID-19 crisis broke due to the realization that the pandemic would lead to reduced payroll taxes that what we had anticipated for 2021.. Under the Alabama Constitution of 1901, all state income tax dollars are earmarked for the ETF. The Finance and Taxation Education Committee worked to make up for that with a two percent across the board raise for education employees. The state has had difficulty in recruiting qualified teachers in recent years, particularly in the important areas of STEM related education. Many school districts face a critical shortage of science and math teachers. The committee addressed this in an ambitious plan to pay bonuses to STEM teachers that go to districts where there is a critical need and raise the step raises that science and math teachers receive during their career going forward so that the state can recruit competent science and math teachers and retain them throughout their careers.

State Superintendent of Education Dr. Eric Mackey explained that the new science and math teacher matrix could result in a highly credentialed math or science teacher making $90,000 a year by the end of their careers.

It is hoped that an emphasis on science and math education will help the state recruit more STEM related jobs/

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Alabama public school students are consistently at or near the bottom in math performance on standardized testing. There was no end of year standardized testing done in 2020 due to the COVID-19 global pandemic and the schools being closed for in-person learning.

Orr said that the STEM Council is one area “that we bumped up.”

Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, asked, “Is there any reason why we could not make this at least a $million on the STEM program.”

Orr said, “My counterpart in the House is working on doing something about this.”

Orr said, “Some junior colleges got earmarks and some did not.” “Calhoun and Jefferson County are the largest and they needed to get caught up with Northwest Shelton in the Shoals.”

“Drake State had a big bump up in the Governor’s budget,” Orr explained. “They wanted that in the supplemental (2021 budget) so that is where that money went. There is a bump up for Marian Military Academy. We bumped up the Cyberschool so that they are close to where the other two magnet schools, the Alabama School of Fine Arts and the Alabama School for Math and Sciences.”

Orr explained that there was a significant bump up for school nurses.

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Senate Bill 61, by Sen. Donnie Chesteen, R-Geneva, creates the Education Retirees’ Trust Fund Funding Act, which would be a separate account from the trust fund or the teachers retirement system fund to be used to pay for retired education employees to get bonuses or raises. The Teacher Retirement System pays a pension out to retired education. The pension is a defined benefit plan, thus there is no money in the plan to pay retirees raises. The check that they get when they retire is the same check that they will receive ten, twenty, thirty years from now when inflation has eroded the purchasing power of those checks.

“This is a separate trust fund,” Chesteen explained. “We are not using ETF dollars. New dollars would fund this, for example a lotter bill.

Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville responded, “What a good idea!”

Orr said, “We are opening a separate account.”

“So this does not come from the taxpayer?” McClendon asked.

Orr said yes.

Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, asked, “So this will be a manner so that retired teachers can get a bonus.”

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McClendon said, “I sure hope that members of this committee can be supportive of the lottery bill so that we can help these education retirees out.”

McClendon has filed lottery legislation in the wake of the Senate last week rejecting Sen. Del Marsh’s, R-Anniston, complicated gambling bill that involved a lottery, casinos at dog tracks, sports betting, and for the state to enter into a compact with the Poarch Creek Band of Indians.

Senate Bill 327 by Chesteen established the new math and science pay matrix as well as bonuses for teachers who agree to work in at need schools.

Mackey said that the state has positions for 4,600 credentialed math and science teachers. One third of those positions are either not filled or are being filled by a teacher who is not credentialed to teach that subject matter. This differentiated pay structure is designed to address that shortage.

“Chairman Poole and I are committed to funding $100 million of it,” Orr said. $50 million is in the supplemental appropriation (for 2021) and $50 million is in the budget.

Mackey said that for teachers to qualify they must have a National STEM certification or be a National Board Certified teacher in the subject matter. There is a possibility for a future certification standard as well.

“We have a significant math and science teacher shortage,” Mackey said. “I had a conversation this morning with a superintendent who has not had an applicant for a math job in two years.”

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Singleton after reviewing the step raises said, “Its flat 11, 12, and 13 years in.”

“We accelerated the pay in the first ten years,” Orr replied.

“We are doing a 2 percent increase this year,” Orr said. “I have talked with Bill Poole and he and I are committed to two and a half percent next year.”

“We are bumping up the step increases on top of the 2 percent across the board,” Orr said. “This is just solely for the classroom educators.”

Sen. Tim Melon, R-Florence, said, “So if they timed it right on the step raise they will get a four percent?”

“Yes that is correct,” Orr answered. “It has got to be targeted. It is vitally important for the future of our children.”

Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham said, “I want to do something for support workers.”

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“We are doing something for them and it is $80 million,” Orr explained.

Orr said that there is an additional $6 million to fund the nurses program so that there is a school nurse in every school system.

Smitherman said, “We used to have RNs but we had to go and get LPNs and make the RNs supervisory over the LPNs.”

Orr said, “We have moved the school nurse program along in the last two years.”

Orr said that there is an “$18 million reduction in after school programs and summer school programs. The programs are not going away but the federal government is coming in and picking up the costs.”

Orr said that there is a new line item in special ed for interpreters for deaf children and “a significant bump for the pre-school program for special ed.”

‘We have got the anti-bullying program that Sen. Smitherman started a few years ago,” Orr said. “It is really coming on strong and spreading across the state.”

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All the bills in the education budget package passed out of committee with a 12 to 0 vote.

The education budget is expected to be addressed on the floor of the Senate on Thursday.

Tuesday was day 15 of the 2021 Alabama Regular Legislative Session.

Brandon Moseley
Written By

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with over nine years at Alabama Political Reporter. During that time he has written 8,297 articles for APR. 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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