A Senate committee Wednesday morning approved a 2015 education budget that includes a one percent bonus for teachers and education employees; funding to hire 250 new middle school teachers and increases to helps districts fund transportation and daily operation needs.
The budget, which still needs approval from the full Senate, represents a step back from a two percent raise that Gov. Robert Bentley had sought, and the 450 additional teachers that the Alabama Department of Education wanted for seventh and eighth graders. Senate Finance and Taxation Education committee chairman Trip Pittman, R-Daphne, said he was concerned about “economic headwinds” that might reduce the revenue available for the state’s Education Trust Fund.
“The budget before us has been a tremendous challenge, the biggest challenge I’ve faced as ETF chairman,” Pittman said. “The reason for that is the economy has remained stagnant and has not rebounded.”
Pittman’s move had broad support from Republicans on the committee, who cited the need to have sustainable pay raises for teachers. Democrats, however, were sharply critical of the move.
“These teachers are treated like nothing when it comes to paying them,” said Senate Minority Leader Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile. “For us to give these tax exemptions to these corporations making millions and billions and not paying us (revenues) . . . I think we need to get our priorities in order.”
The budget also includes a major alteration to Alabama State University’s funding. Under the proposal, ASU’s funding for 2015 would be cut by $10.8 million, nearly 26 percent, over this year’s budget. The ETF would include a $10 million first conditional priority, the release of which would be up to Bentley, who has clashed with the university’s Board of Trustees over investigations into allegations of fraud and waste at the school.
A message left with Bentley’s office was not immediately returned Wednesday afternoon.
The Alabama Department of Edcuation has sought increases for funding for transportation and daily expenses of local schools, along with additional funding for middle school teachers. In his State of the State address on Jan. 14, Gov. Robert Bentley called for a two percent across-the-board salary increase for teachers and support personnel, along with a $10 million increase for pre-kindergarten programs.
The $10 million increase for pre-kindgergarten remains in the budget; the Alabama School Readiness Alliance estimates the increase could extend the state’s nationally-recognized program to 1,800 four-year-olds in the state.
Teachers and support personnel received a two percent raise in this year’s ETF. An attempt by committee Democrats to put a six percent raise in the budget was tabled on party lines.
Bentley’s budget also included $92 million in spending outside the Rolling Reserve cap, which limits annual ETF growth based on a 15-year growth average. The committee’s budget includes $16.3 million in spending above the cap, which Pittman said would be directed toward the PACT program.