Editor’s note: This is a round-up of the day’s major events in Montgomery.
The education budget sailed through the state House of Representatives on Tuesday without a dissenting vote, while a bill to promote expansion of ride-sharing programs is a governor’s signature away from becoming law.
Teachers and 4-year-olds are the big winners of the spending blueprint, which now heads to the state Senate.
If passed, the budget would bring school funding nearly back to 2008 levels when spending peaked at $6.7 billion before revenues cratered after the Great Recession.
Here is a look at the major developments in the Legislature:
The big story: The $6.6 billion education budget spends $97.5 million, an increase of $20 million, to add about 142 additional pre-kindergarten classrooms and extend the program to 2,500 more 4-year-olds next school year.
A separate bill, which also passed without a “no” vote, authorizes a 2.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment for education employees.
The budget drew praise from the Alabama School Readiness Alliance.
“Today, the Alabama State House of Representatives made clear its desire to prioritize education revenues to help expand Alabama’s high-quality, voluntary First Class Pre-K program by approving the largest funding increase in the program’s history,” Alabama School Readiness Alliance Pre-K Task Force Co-Chairmen Mike Luce and Bob Powers said in a prepared statement. “The additional funding will mean that more Alabama families will be able to voluntarily enroll their four-year-old in the nation’s highest quality pre-kindergarten program next school year. This is good news for many families since there are currently only enough classrooms to enroll 28 percent of Alabama’s 4-year-olds.”
Alabama’s pre-kindergarten program has drawn high marks from experts but has been hampered by a lack of access. This school year, the state has 941 pre-K classrooms serving about 28 percent of the state’s 4-year-olds.
Education employees at kindergarten-12th grade schools and two-year colleges would receive a 2.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment, at a total cost of $102.4 million, according to the Montgomery Advertiser.
“It’s important to remember this is a very positive budget,” the Advertiser quoted Rep. Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa). “I hope education employees, retirees, students and parents recognize that.”
Although they all voted for the budget, some Democrats argued lawmakers should give a more generous pay raise, according to the newspaper.
“The net effect to educators in the classroom was a negative,” said Rep. Craig Ford (D-Gadsden). “The two most important resources in the classroom today are educators and students.”
Uber and Lyft: The Alabama Senate voted 27-0 to pass a law setting up statewide regulations for Uber, Lyft and other ride-sharing companies.
The House of Representatives already passed the measure, meaning Gov. Kay Ivey’s signature is all that is needed before it becomes law. The governor supports the bill.
Proponents hope uniform, consistent rules will encourage companies to expand operations beyond the handful of communities where they current operate.
According to AL.com, the city regulations now governing ride-sharing companies would be phased out. The Public Service Commission would be in charge of regulating the industry.
AL.com reported that Evangeline George, a spokeswoman for Uber, praised the bill.
“In passing one clear set of rules for ridesharing, the Alabama Legislature stood with students who need safe rides home late at night, seniors who need rides to their doctors, and commuters who need rides to work,” George said in a statement.
Governor rallies: Gov. Kay Ivey formally launched her campaign for a full term in office after assuming the job following the resignation of her predecessor, Robert Bentley.
According to the Associated Press, Ivey used her first campaign rally of 2018 in Montgomery to stress familiar themes.
“I’m proud today to say that, with all of you, that we have made it out of the darkness and are on our way to progress and prosperity,” she said, according to the AP.
The 73-year-old governor took the state’s top job in April after Bentley resigned amid an impeachment push and ethics investigation of his affair with an aide.
Speaking to about 150 people gathered in a downtown hotel ballroom, Ivey touted a record-low unemployment rate and the successful recruitment by Toyota and Mazda to build a manufacturing plan in Huntsville.
“I promise you this. I’m not done,” she said, according to the AP.
Ivey will face four opponents in the GOP primary in June, including state Sen. Bill Hightower (R-Mobile) and Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle.
Tweet of the day:
— ASRA (@ALSRA) February 13, 2018