An overwhelmingly powerful vote by Alabama lawmakers has passed the state's largest education budget and the biggest pay raise for employees in public schools since the Great Recession.
Mike Cason, writing for the Alabama Media Group, reports the budget contains $6.3 billion which will be obtained from the Education Trust Fund and will be spent on K-12 schools, community colleges, four-year universities, and other education programs. This amount for the next academic year is 5.6% more than this year's budget.
According to the legislative vote, teachers and most other education workers will receive a 4% cost of living raise. Since 2007, educators have had only one cost of living accommodation, and that was three years ago when they received a 2% salary increase.
After a few changes were made, the House voted 100-0 and the Senate voted 32-0 to pass the budget. The raise proposal and the budget were sent to the desk of Gov. Robert Bentley, who applauded both measures.
A large part of school funding money comes from sales taxes. Rep. Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa), chairperson of the House education budget committee, adds that the Foundation Program, the entity that funds the fundamental operations for the state's school systems, received increases. It also offers additional dollars to school technology funding that receives federal matching funds.
The 4% raise is for educators who are making $75,000 or less, and administrators will receive the benefit as well, whatever their salary.
Teachers' health insurance plan will be boosted from $780 per contract each month to $800. This change will make things easier for teachers, but will not entirely exclude out-of-pocket expenses for teachers. The Public Education Employees Health Insurance Plan (PEEHIP) is expected to have an estimated $140 million shortage by 2017, reports Brian Lyman for the Montgomery Advertiser.
The increased budget will also allow for full funding of teachers' retirement, as well as the hiring of 475 additional teachers. The budget will also provide $16 million for Alabama's limited, voluntary pre-K program — enough to add 2,800 4-year-olds to the program.
The budget does not include a conditional raise for retirees that was approved in the Senate. The condition was that the increase would be allocated if there was additional revenue next year. Sen. Authur Orr (R-Decatur) stated that the raise would be a priority in the next fiscal year, reports the Decatur Daily's Mary Sell.
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) said having this much money is always a good thing.
"We had it this year in education, revenue was decent and it made things easier," Marsh said. "But we have challenges ahead and we can't just assume that because the money is there, things are going to take care of themselves. We've got to ask some hard questions of the department of education and say, âWhere are we headed as a state to solve these problems of education?' "
Limestone County School Superintendent Tom Sisk said he wanted the people of Alabama to know that most teachers are doing a great job every day. Being able to show them they are appreciated in this way is, he added, a way to thank teachers for their dedication.