By Joseph M. Morgan
MONTGOMERY, Ala.— By a 105 to 0 margin, the Alabama House on Tuesday passed a $6.3 billion Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget that includes a teacher pay raise, decreases classroom sizes and provides significant investments in proven classroom programs.
“As a result of the responsible spending practices that have been utilized since Republicans took leadership of the Legislature, this budget is able to reward teachers and support personnel with a needed pay raise that also closes the salary gap between administrators and classroom educators,” House Ways and Means Education Chairman Bill Poole (R – Tuscaloosa) said. “This budget, coupled with ongoing reforms, represents an investment in our children and our education employees, in our workforce development and job creation efforts, and consequently, in our future prosperity. This budget truly focuses on solutions that will lead us to a better future.”
Under the House-passed budget, teachers and support personnel, such as bus drivers, lunchroom workers, and others, earning less than $75,000 a year will receive a four percent salary increase while administrators and others earning more than $75,000 will receive a two percent raise. The proposed ETF budget includes a four percent across-the-board pay raise for all community college employees. The budget also fully-funds health insurance and retirement program funding requests.
Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R – Auburn) noted that Republican passage of the Proration Prevention Act in 2011 allowed the quicker-than-expected repayment of more than $400 million that Democrats had siphoned from a rainy day account. The repayment freed up significant funding that can now be redirected to successful classroom programs.
“This budget also includes significant increases in classroom spending for priorities like First Class Pre-K, distance learning, school technology, and Advanced Placement courses,” Hubbard said. “When coupled with the funding we are providing to make us the first state in the nation to offer wireless broadband access in each of its K-12 public school classrooms, this education budget may be considered among the best ones passed in Alabama’s history.”
The highlights in the Fiscal Year 2017 Education Trust Fund budget include:
• Providing funding for an additional 475 teachers in 7-12 grade classrooms, where the need is greatest.
• Increased spending for textbooks ($8 million for FY2017 and $20.8 million over the past two years combined) and transportation ($13.5 million for FY2017 and $18 million over the past two years combined).
• Expansion of Alabama’s nationally-recognized voluntary Pre-Kindergarten program, known as First Class, with an additional $14 million in funding in FY2017 and $24.3 million over the past two years combined.
• A $3.1 million increase in funding for student materials ($6.1 million over the past two years combined) to prevent teachers from pay out-of-pocket for needed classroom supplies.
• Allowing local school systems to set priorities and meet urgent needs by providing an additional $47 million in discretionary “Other Current Expense” funding.
• Providing full funding for the Public Education Employees’ Health Insurance Program (PEEHIP) with a $20 million increase that is intended to avoid premium increases.
The ETF budget will now go to the State Senate for consideration.