The Alabama Senate on Thursday passed the largest education budget in the history of the state. The 2022 fiscal year budget goes into effect on Oct. 1. The FY2022 education budget is $7,672,576,573. The Education Trust Fund budget received an increase of $455,154,085, or roughly 5.9 percent, with approximately $200 million going to educators.
“I am very pleased with what we have done,” said Senate Pro Tem Greg Reed, R-Jasper. “The education budget is the largest in the history of the state of Alabama. This is on the heels of coming out of a global pandemic.”
Reed credited the state’s sound, conservative budgeting.
“We put ourselves in a better place fiscally than other states,” Reed said. “That conservative approach has really paid off for the people of Alabama.”
All education employees will receive a 2 percent raise. The 2 percent across the board pay increase will cost the state $80 million. There is also $30 million in the budget for enhanced step raises as teachers progress through their careers. There is $50 million in the 2022 budget as well as $50 million from a supplemental FY2021 appropriation to pay for a dramatically beefed-up pay schedule for math and science teachers — an area where the state has a tremendous shortage of certified teachers.
Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, chairs the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee, which is tasked with preparing the education budget. Senate Bill 189, the education budget, is sponsored by Orr.
“Chairman Poole (in the House) and I have been talking about recruiting and retaining more science teachers,” Orr told reporters. “The state department (of education) approached us with this plan. It is going to take time.”
“We have positions for about 7,500 for these type teachers, but we only have 4,500 credentialed people in place now,” Orr said. “We are talking credentialed teachers here. I don’t anticipate spending all of that $100 million this year. It would be good if we could fill all of those positions this year, but I don’t anticipate that.”
Orr said that he and Poole were committed to funding the new pay scale for science and math teachers and that an additional $100 million would be an ongoing expenditure for the state.
According to the new pay scale for math and science teachers, a credentialed STEM field teacher hired by Alabama today could be making $90,000 a year by the time she retires.
“We have horrendously low step increase for teachers as they advance through their careers,” Orr explained. “The step increases cost over $30 million.”
“We lose those experienced teachers,” Orr explained. “We do good with first-year teachers. Now we are focused on retaining those teachers.”
The state’s students routinely test low on science and reading scores compared to other states and are often ranked dead last in math rankings.
Orr said that the budget includes a $6 million increase for the school nurse program.
“Members said, particularly after the COVID, we need more money for school nurses,” Orr said. “We found that many children are not going to the doctor. School nurses are where students get a low level of health care.”
Orr said that there were robust increases for special education pre-school programs as well as for intense one-on-one special ed instruction.
“We have a lot of catching up to do due to COVID,” Orr said.
“The K-12 community is going to be very busy this summer,” Orr predicted. “Students have to catch up because the virtual learning has frankly not been as good as the real learning.”
There are expected federal dollars coming to school systems that will be used to pay for summer school and after-school programs.
SB189 is just one part of the education budget. The Senate also passed a supplemental appropriation for 2021 money that the state has received in excess of expectation, the pay raise which has its own bill as well as separate appropriations bills for Lyman Ward Academy, Tuskegee University and Talladega College.
The Senate also passed SB61, by Sen. Donnie Chesteen, R-Geneva, which 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 fund for retirees bonuses or cost of living adjustments would be funded by hoped-for future money, perhaps from a passage of a state lottery.
The $7,672,576,573 education fund is the most money that the state has ever spent on education. Of that $5,270,033,944 will go to fund K-12; while $1.954,459,139 goes to fund higher ed. $448,083,492 goes to other items with appropriations from the Education Trust Fund.
Alabama has two budgets, the ETF, which deals with education, and the state general fund, which funds most non-education-related items like law enforcement, courts, Medicaid, prisons, mental health, the department of health, archives, etc. The House passed a record $2.4 billion SGF and sent it to the Senate on March 9.
Thursday was day 16 of the 2021 Legislative Session. The legislature can use a maximum of 30 days in a session. The legislature is taking next week off for spring break.
“Senators have told me that many of them will be in town working on a number of things,” Reed said. “This is the first time that I have been here, that both budgets have passed out of the house of origin by spring break.”