Alabama's Senate Finance and Taxation Education committee has approved a $6.3 billion Education Trust Fund budget, the largest since 2008, to fund transportation and provide extra money for hiring new teachers.
The budget calls for a four percent raise for teachers making $75,000 or less, and teachers making more than that amount would receive a two percent raise. Additionally, principals and assistant principals, though they make over the $75,000 threshold, will get a pay bump.
"The principals are the backbone of the schools and make the train run on time," said Arthur Orr, the chairman of the Senate Finance Taxation Education Committee. Overall, Orr lauded the bill. "If you don't pay people a decent salary, then we'll suffer as to the type and kind of person we're trying to attract to education." The budget also increased funding for transpiration from $9.8 million to over $11 million, bumped the pay of community college employees, and provided a fund for additional hires.
The Senate made few adjustments to the version of the budget, which passed the Alabama State House last month by a vote of 105-0. According to The Anniston Star, the budget is made possible by increased revenue accrued from income and sales taxes.
Brian Lyman, a writer for the Montgomery Advertiser, notes that the budget committee chose to avoid tackling pay raises for education retirees with this budget. An amendment was labeled that would have given retirees a $2 bonus for every month of service; to fund it, however, the pay raises for current teachers would have been slightly reduced. The Committee was sympathetic to the proposal, but it first wanted to deal with active teachers, who last received a pay raise in 2013. It vows that that pay raises concerning retirees will take place sometime next year.
The budget was the less controversial of two education measures up for consideration by the Alabama legislature. The other, more contentious, proposal is called the Prep Act, a $12 million piece of legislation that would increase the time newly hired teachers must serve to acquire tenure. It would also include controversial teacher-evaluation guidelines and offer teachers, who work in underserved fields, a bonus.
This bill met criticism from teachers groups, which have largely supported the other budget increases. A group, School Superintendents of Alabama, said schools are already among the most accountable agencies in the state. Such criticism met pushback from Senator Del Marsh, a sponsor of the Prep Act, who claimed that superintendents do not want accountability "whatsoever."
Unsurprisingly, given their traditional allegiances, state Democrats have come out against the Prep Act, while their Republican colleagues have voiced their support of it. Democrats would like to use the $12 million that would be spent on the Prep Act to fund retirees' bonuses or increase pre-kindergarten education spending. "We have the money in this overall budget to address the issue about the retirees," said Rodger Smitherman, a Democrat representing Birmingham. "We know where the money is."
The Senate will vote on the Prep this Saturday.