Alabama House Passes Increased Ed Budget, Teacher Raise Bill

robert_bently

The Alabama education budget and a bill that would increase teachers’ salaries has passed unanimouslyin the state’s House of Representatives. Both bills will now be sent to the Senate.

Alabama’s fiscal year begins Oct. 1, and the Education Trust Fund (ETF) will have $6.3 billion withdrawn from it. This amount is an increase of $290 million, which is 4.8% higher than the current year.

Any teachers who earn less than $75,000 annually would be given a 4% increase, and those earning more than $75,000 would receive a 2% raise. Employees in the field of education have received one cost of living increase over the last eight years in the form of a 2% raise in 2013.

All community college and technical school employees would qualify for a 4% increase, and the budget would allow for enough funding to add 475 seventh- through twelfth-grade teachers.

Funding for community colleges would rise by 4.6%, and university funding would increase by 2.5%.

“A 4 percent pay raise is a healthy pay raise,” said Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, chairman of the House Ways and Means Education Committee. “We haven’t been able to accomplish that in some time based upon the economic downturn that we’ve experienced. So I’m very pleased we were able to do that.

“We prioritized classroom teachers and support staff, those people who are in those classrooms, in those lunchrooms, on those buses every single day.”

But some legislators recommended a 5% pay raise for teachers and staff. There was a proposal for an amendment to give retired educators a one-time bonus that the House voted against.

The plan would raise kindergarten funding by $14 million, which increases its total financial support to $62.5 million. Alabama has a highly acclaimed, but limited, voluntary pre-kindergarten program.

More money will be given for transportation, textbooks, school technology, classroom supplies, and other K-12 school necessities. The budget would completely fund the requests from the Public Education Employees’ Health Insurance Plan (PEEHIP) and Teachers Retirement System, noted Poole.

But the program will meet with a significant shortage in the next fiscal year, so PEEHIP officials have hinted at co-pay or premium increases to cover the deficit, reports Brian Lyman for the Montgomery Advertiser.

Gov. Robert Bentley supported an education budget that would have had a somewhat smaller raise for educators and staff, a moderately larger pre-kindergarten allotment, and a slightly larger amount of funding for transportation.

Bentley’s budget also included a shift of $181 million in ETF monies to the state’s General Fund, the majority of which would fund the $100 million addition to the Alabama Medicaid program.

In his State of the State Address, Bentley rolled out his “Alabama Great State 2019” plan which aimed at “elevating the state’s population”, particularly in its rural areas. He mentioned “opening doors of opportunity” and “clearing the path to prosperity.” He also said that he would like to leave his office having solved “decades-old problems.”

But the governor’s far-reaching proposals may fall victim to a shortfall in the state’s General Fund, which pays for most non-education services in Alabama. The fund is expected to decrease by $42.2 million based on receipts going into the state account. The overall projected shortage in the General Fund is $95 million.

Medicaid will be looking for $157 million more to continue its services and support changes in the way services are delivered.