The Alabama Legislature today overwhelmingly passed the state’s largest education budget and largest pay raise for school employees since the Great Recession.
The budget calls for spending $6.3 billion from the Education Trust Fund on K-12 schools, community colleges, four-year universities and other programs, 5.6 percent more than this year.
Lawmakers voted to give teachers and most other education employees a 4 percent cost of living raise.
Educators have had one cost of living raise since 2007, a 2 percent hike three years ago.
After some changes worked out by a conference committee, the House passed the budget 100-0. The Senate passed it 32-0.
The budget and pay raise bill were sent to Gov. Robert Bentley, who issued statements praising both.
“Alabama’s commitment to education is strong, and with this pay raise, state leaders are sending a clear message of support to our invaluable teachers and other support staff,” the governor said.
Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, chairman of the House education budget committee, said the legislation is a cause for optimism.
“This is an extremely positive budget for education in the state of Alabama as we continue to climb back from the recession,” Poole said.
School funding dipped by more than a billion dollars after a peak of $6.7 billion from the ETF in 2008. Most of the money comes from income and sales taxes.
Poole said strong components in the budget include the pay raises for K-12 and community college employees, increases in the Foundation Program, which funds basic operations for school systems, and a boost in funding for school technology that includes federal matching dollars.
Poole said the budget meets the funding requests from the Public Education Employees’ Health Insurance Plan and the Teachers Retirement System.
K-12 employees earning less than $75,000 a year will get a 4 percent raise. Those earning more will get a 2 percent raise.
Principals and assistant principals will get the 4 percent raise regardless of current pay.
All community college employees will receive a 4 percent raise. They were left out of the raise passed three years ago.
The budget will provide funding for an additional 475 teachers in grades 7-12.
Interim State Superintendent Philip Cleveland issued a statement praising the budget.
“I commend the Alabama State Legislature for passing an education budget that provides much needed resources to our public schools,” Cleveland said. “Their commitment to providing increased funding for transportation, improving teacher-student ratios in grades 7 through 12, and Other Current Expenses (OCE) is a great start.”
Cleveland said he was disappointed to see funding for the Alabama Reading Initiative cut from $48 million to $41 million.
“It is unfortunate that funding for the Alabama Reading Initiative was reduced, however, we move forward expecting to show continued academic progress,” Cleveland said. “PLAN 2020 calls for improving student performance to meet the demands of colleges and the workforce. We expect to achieve that goal. With a collaborative spirit between educators and lawmakers we can, over time, move education forward in this great state.”
The budget boosts funding for the state’s prekindergarten program by $16 million, to $64 million.
The increase, coupled with year two of a four-year federal grant, will allow the state to add 155 prekindergarten classrooms with 2,800 students, according to the Alabama School Readiness Alliance, which advocates for prekindergarten.
That will bring total enrollment statewide to 14,500, which is 25 percent of 4-year-olds in the state, up from 20 percent this year.
A spreadsheet prepared by the Legislative Fiscal Office shows that the K-12 Foundation Program will receive $4 billion, a 5 percent increase.
The community college system will get $343 million, a 5.5 percent increase.
Universities will receive $1.08 billion, a 3 percent increase.
See the spreadsheet below for more details. The budget that passed is under the column “FY 2017 Conference Committee Report.”