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House passes $8.1 billion education budget

The Alabama Legislature set aside much of the federal surplus of funds to pay off debts and fund reserves.

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The Alabama House of Representatives Tuesday passed an $8.1 billion education budget that will raise teacher pay while also paying off debt and fully funding reserves.

The budget is the highest dollar figure ever passed by the state, not accounting for inflation, despite shaving $125 million off Gov. Kay Ivey’s proposed budget.

House Was and Means Education Committee chair Danny Garret, R-Trussville, said appropriating the funds comes down to what can build toward the future.

“I think the choice we always have is where do we put the money?” Garret said. “Do we go back or do we go forward? Right now with all of the needs we have in some of the underperforming schools, any dollar we put here, it’s an opportunity not to put it somewhere else.”

Due to federal COVID funding, the state has an infusion of cash, starting this year’s budget with a beginning balance of $1.3 billion.

Much of that extra cash flow has been directed toward one-time expenses such as paying off the PACT program and fully funding the Rolling Reserve to prepare for the impending fiscal cliff.

However the extra money shows up across the budget.

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Teachers would receive a 4 percent pay raise, while retirees will receive a one-time bonus of $2 per month worked. That amounts to $720 to educators with 30 years’ experience or $480 to teachers with 20 years.

The proposed ETF also raises classroom spending from $700 to $900, a $9.5 million impact.

The Alabama Reading Initiative would receive $94.2 million in the upcoming fiscal year compared to $80.2 million last year. The Alabama Math, Science and Technology initiative would go up $15 million to $48.2 million. An additional $24 million would be allocated to the state’s “First Class” Pre-K program, adding 125 classrooms to the program.

Funding for Alabama colleges is set to go up to $1.4 billion, a $116 million increase.

The majority of speakers Tuesday came forward to praise Garrett’s work on the bill.

“I just wanted to stand up and say this is a great day in education for Alabama,’ REp. Barbara Drummond, D-Mobile, told Garrett. “I particularly wanted members to know how you have taken monies and put them back into the classroom, not only for coordinators in all of the classrooms, but you’ve looked out for everyone.”

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, called the budget “the strongest budget I’ve ever encountered in my tenure” and praised Garrett for his committee’s transparency and outreach in preparing the budget package.

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The budget legislation now moves to the Senate for consideration. There are 10 days remaining in the legislative session.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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