On Thursday, the Alabama House Ways and Means Education Committee passed the largest education budget in the history of the state of Alabama. The committee passed a substitute version of the 2022 education budget, which passed out of the Senate on March 18.
The package of seven bills that comprise the education budget package includes a two percent pay raise for teachers and all education employees. Separate legislation will further increase the pay of science and math teachers – fields where the state is faced with an increasingly dire shortage, particularly in rural school districts.
The House Ways and Means Committee is chaired by state Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa.
Poole said that this budget is an important moment in the history of the state and will allow the state to address a number of longstanding problems.
The 2022 education budget, which takes effect on October 1, is $7.65 billion. There is also a massive supplemental appropriation for the 2021 budget that should hit state school systems’ budgets late this spring if passed by the House and concurred with by the Senate.
The budget bills are already on the special order calendar to be addressed by the full House of Representatives when it meets on Tuesday.
The supplemental 2021 appropriation bill is SB190. It includes supplemental appropriations from the Education Trust Fund to the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind, Educational Television Commission, the Marine Environmental Sciences Consortium, Tuskegee University, Athens State University, University of West Alabama, University of South Alabama, University of North Alabama, Alabama Community College System, the Alabama Department of Education, the Commission on Higher Education, Historical Commission, the Department of Archives and History, the Department of Examiners of Public Accounts, and the Education Trust Fund Advancement and Technology Fund.
The supplement appropriation also makes a transfer from the Education Trust Fund to the Budget Stabilization Fund.
The state’s school systems are also expecting a big influx of funds from the American Rescue Act, which passed Congress last month.
The money comes at a time when school systems are still reeling from the COVID-19 crisis. Schools across the state closed unexpectedly in March 2020 to stop the school systems from becoming spreader hubs for the coronavirus. Since then, many students have had most of their classes online, if their family was fortunate enough to have broadband access; or have had to work from papers sent home by teachers with little hands-on instruction when it was even possible to send a packet of work to the home.
Some students have thrived in that environment, but others may have lost the better part of a year in progress.
The state Department of Education admits to losing up to 5,000 students. Many of those students may have dropped out, switched to home school, joined a church school, moved out of state, or have been left to their own devices in their home and neighborhood.
Poole explained that the Budget Stabilization Fund will have $100 million to be drawn from to protect teacher units from being lost next year due to inaccurate student counts. It is hoped that the COVID-19 global pandemic will be sufficiently under control by then that all students will be able to resume in-person classes with as little disruption as possible.
SB327 is the bill that raises the salary schedule for certified math and science teachers. New math and science teachers will make substantially more money in their careers than their predecessors did as the state struggles to deal with shortages of STEM teachers across the state.
Poole said that while many states are having to cut their education budgets due to shortfalls from the pandemic and the resulting economic shutdowns, Alabama was able to increase its education budget due to the conservative budgeting principles put in place by the Legislature especially last year during the pandemic.
Tuesday will be day 26 of the Alabama 2021 Legislative Session.