9 months ago

Alabama Senate passes largest ever education budget — Record pre-k funding, teacher pay raise, rural broadband & more

MONTGOMERY – The Alabama Senate on Thursday passed a historic education budget by an overwhelming, bipartisan 28-2 vote.

SB 199, sponsored by State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), combined with supplemental education appropriations bills amounts to a $7.1 billion Education Trust Fund for Fiscal Year 2020, which begins October 1 of this year.

“This is the largest education budget in state history, thanks to fiscally conservative practices over the past several years, we are able to budget over $7 billion toward public education in Alabama,” Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) said in a statement.

Additionally, SB 192 passed 31-0. This provides a four percent pay raise for Alabama’s teachers and education support personnel, which follows a 2.5 percent pay raise last year. This includes First Class Pre-K, K-12 and two-year college education employees.

Marsh advised, “Overall this is an excellent budget, we were able to provide educators with a 4% pay raise and increase money for our teacher’s professional development and classroom supplies. We were even able to fully fund transportation for the first time since 2008.”

The version of the education budget bill passed by the Senate also contained a $30 million line item for a rural broadband grant program. State officials and job creators say expanding fast, reliable broadband access is paramount to gains in education, economic development and healthcare across Alabama.

“In addition, we are making a multi-million dollar investment in rural broadband. Internet connectivity is a major issue in our rural areas and impacts everything from education to economic development,” Marsh emphasized. “Children now rely on the internet both at school and at home and our goal is to make sure that children in rural areas have the same educational opportunities as those in more urban areas.”

The Senate leader specifically thanked Orr, the chairman of the Senate’s education budget committee, for his diligence and leadership throughout the process.

“I want to thank Senator Orr and his staff, as well as the members of the education budget committee for their commitment to crafting a sensible, fiscally responsible spending plan, every Senator should be proud of this budget and the support it provides for our teachers and students,” Marsh concluded.

The Senate’s education budget also included a $39 million increase for the Community College System, a $6 million increase for workforce development programs administered by the Department of Commerce and an additional $900,000 for career tech initiatives in the K-12 system.

“This education budget, the largest in Alabama’s history, is a historic investment in the success of Alabama’s schools and colleges,” Orr remarked. “We have made progress, but I don’t think anyone, from teachers to parents to legislators, is satisfied with where we are in national educational rankings. This budget invests a 4% pay raise in our teachers, because the people leading the classrooms can help accomplish positive outcomes better than anyone else in the school system, and we need to make sure that they have every resource that they need to be successful.”

Another highlight of the Senate-passed education budget is a $1.5 million increase for dual enrollment scholarships, an additional $10 million for the Alabama Reading Initiative and a $500,000 increase for school-based mental health programs.

“This is a banner day for education in Alabama. Thanks to a growing economy and the fiscal discipline that Republicans have had for the past several years, we now have the largest education budget in the history of our state,” Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper) commented. “A strong educational system is the foundation of a thriving state, and the 4% pay raise represents the Legislature’s commitment to rewarding teachers and ensuring that Alabama is competitive in recruiting the best teachers we can to lead Alabama’s classrooms.”

More winning

While Alabama’s k-12 education system is a major work-in-progress, Alabama’s voluntary First Class Pre-k Program has been ranked as the nation’s best for 13 consecutive years. The Education Trust Fund budget passed by the Senate expands this revolutionary program to even more Alabamians, ensuring less students are irreversibly falling behind early in their education.

The FY20 education budget includes a $27 million increase for First Class, allowing the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education to add more than 200 classrooms next year and helping bring the total number of First Class classrooms statewide to nearly 1,300. This amount would allow almost 40 percent of all four-year-olds to attend the voluntary program. The Senate also approved an additional $1.8 million to help ensure all First Class Pre-K teachers receive a pay raise at the same level as their K-12 counterparts.

Members of the Alabama School Readiness Alliance’s business-led Pre-K Task Force praised the Senate’s action.

“Students who attend Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program are outperforming their peers in reading and math on state assessments regardless of demographics, where they live or what school that they attend,” Bob Powers and Mike Luce, co-chairs of the Alabama School Readiness Alliance Pre-K Task Force, said.

They added, “Investing in more high-quality pre-k classrooms across the state is a proven strategy that can help more Alabama students succeed. We are grateful for the Alabama Senate’s overwhelming, bipartisan support for pre-k expansion, and we encourage the Alabama House of Representatives to approve the Senate-passed level of funding for the program.”

The Education Trust Fund budget now moves to the House for consideration. The House has passed the General Fund budget, which is currently undergoing the Senate committee process.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

12 hours ago

Nick Saban: I still consider Jalen Hurts ‘one of our players’

MOBILE — Former University of Alabama Crimson Tide star quarterback Jalen Hurts is still beloved by many in Bama nation, including head coach Nick Saban.

Saban has spoken this past year about his respect and admiration for Hurts. However, speaking to members of the media on Wednesday at the second day of Senior Bowl Week practices at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Saban made it clear he really feels that Hurts is still part of the Tide family.

To open his remarks, Saban said, “My only comment is we’re glad to be here. It’s always great to come back to Mobile for the Senior Bowl. It’s such a tradition, and I think this community really embraces this game.”

“It’s really good for the players to have the opportunity to showcase their talent, any player from any place but especially good to see our players be able to do it — and Jalen, who I still consider one of our players … always good to be here to support our players,” Saban continued.

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The legendary coach then answered questions for approximately four minutes.

He discussed what NFL teams will like about both Hurts and outgoing Tide junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

Watch:

This came after Hurts this week has spoken highly of the University of Alabama football program, its fanbase and the state of Alabama.

Hurts will wear a two-sided helmet during Saturday’s Senior Bowl game; one side is a replica of his iconic No. 2 Bama helmet, and the other has the Oklahoma Sooners logo on it.

RELATED: Bama’s Jared Mayden glad to be reunited with ‘natural leader’ Jalen Hurts for Senior Bowl

Hurts recently said about Saban, “We always had a love for each other … our relationship will never die.”

Get tickets to Saturday’s Senior Bowl game here.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

12 hours ago

Shelby County sheriff one of 18 officials appointed to Trump law enforcement commission

Shelby County Sheriff John Samaniego on Wednesday was named by the U.S. Department of Justice as an appointee to the newly-established Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr appointed Samaniego and 17 other law enforcement officials from across the nation to the commission, which was created through executive order by President Donald Trump in late October.

The commission will explore modern issues affecting law enforcement that most impact the ability of American policing to reduce crime, according to the DoJ.

“There is no more noble and important profession than law enforcement,” Barr said in a statement. “A free and safe society requires a trusted and capable police force to safeguard our rights to life and liberty.”

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“But as criminal threats and social conditions have changed the responsibilities and roles of police officers, there is a need for a modern study of how law enforcement can best protect and serve American communities,” he continued. “This is why the President instructed me to establish this critical Commission, whose members truly reflect the best there is in law enforcement. Together, we will examine, discuss, and debate how justice is administered in the United States and uncover opportunities for progress, improvement, and innovation.”

Read more about the commission here.

This comes after Samaniego was recently named as the winner of the 2019 Crime Stopper of the Year Award by Crime Stoppers of Metro Alabama.

On Monday, he was one of eight Alabama sheriffs to publicly endorse former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ 2020 bid to return to the Senate.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

13 hours ago

Etowah County mega-site to receive $2.7M in improvements

The Etowah County-located Little Canoe Creek mega-site is to receive $2.7-million in improvements as part of an effort to make it a more attractive location to potential industry.

The site is composed of around 1,100 acres just off of I-59 southwest of the city of Gadsden. The funding for the improvements comes from a donation by the Norfolk Southern Corporation.

According to a release sent to Yellowhammer News, the improvements “will include grading a portion of the over 1,000-acre property to create a pad-ready rail-served site sufficient to accommodate a large industry. Natural gas lines will be relocated near the edge of the property, and a new railroad crossing will be added to the industrial access road off U.S. Highway 11.”

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“The mega-site has many location advantages for industrial recruitment and this project will improve upon its assets and greatly increase our overall competitiveness,” said Marilyn Lott, economic development director for Etowah County.

Etowah County began buying the land that now composes the Little Canoe Creek site in 2008. In addition to bordering the local interstate, the site is also adjacent to U.S. Highway 11 and a Norfolk Southern mainline.

Little Canoe Creek was designated an “Alabama AdvantageSite” in 2018. Being labeled an “AdvantageSite” amounts to a guarantee from the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama “that the site is ready for major industrial use.”

According to local leaders, a key factor in the improvements announced on Wednesday is the Growing Alabama Tax Credit. A credit “is equal to 100% of the donating taxpayer’s contributions to the economic development opportunity during the taxable year for which the credit is claimed and may offset up to 50% of the taxpayer’s income tax liability.”

“We truly appreciate this funding made possible by Norfolk Southern and the state,” said Jeffery Washington, president of the Etowah County Commission.

“This infrastructure improvement project at the Little Canoe Creek Mega-Site perfectly illustrates how we can use the Growing Alabama Credit as a tool to facilitate growth and expand employment,” added Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

13 hours ago

Steve Marshall travels to D.C. to urge Senate to reject Trump impeachment articles

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall on Wednesday traveled to Washington, D.C. to file a blistering 14-page “friend of the Senate” letter urging the upper chamber to reject the two articles of impeachment filed against President Donald J. Trump.

The Senate on Tuesday began the impeachment trial of Trumps, and Marshall joined 20 of his Republican attorneys general from across the nation in signing the letter.

However, Marshall was only one of six of the attorneys general invited to the U.S. Capitol to attend a press conference Wednesday commenting on their letter and the impeachment trial.

Of the letter, Marshall remarked, “It is thorough. It is a full examination of both the facts and the law that the Senate has to apply. But despite that significant analysis, fundamentally what that letter is about is the idea of fairness — or maybe better said, the lack of fairness.”

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“As a prosecutor for 20 years, what I’ve seen is an unfair process brings about an unjust result,” Marshall advised. “And that is what the Senate now has an opportunity to stop.”

“I also find it remarkable, as somebody who has stood before juries and judges, whose brought charging instruments against defendants, to now hear the House say that they are not prepared. And that they are not ready. What that simply shows is not that they are not prepared but that they have no case,” he continued. “Our letter demonstrates the various reasons why the Senate should reject this effort, and we need to return the president back to the work of this country…”

Watch:

In a tweet referencing the letter, Marshall called the articles of impeachment passed by House Democrats against Trump “unfounded and fundamentally flawed.”

The letter states, “If not expressly repudiated by the Senate, the theories animating both Articles will set a precedent that is entirely contrary to the Framers’ design and ruinous to the most important governmental structure protections contained in our Constitution: the separation of powers.”

Read the letter below:

State AG letter to Senate o… by Fox News on Scribd

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

13 hours ago

Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele inks three-year extension

Auburn University head football coach Gus Malzahn on Wednesday announced that defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has officially agreed to a new three-year contract that will take him through the 2022 season.

In a statement, Malzahn said, “Kevin has done a fantastic job with our defense the last four years making it one of the best in the country.”

“This will provide great stability and leadership for our defense in the future. I’m appreciative of Kevin’s hard work,” he added.

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Steele has been Auburn’s defensive coordinator for the last four years. During that tenure, the Tigers’ defense has ranked in the top 20 nationally in scoring defense. Additionally, Auburn is one of only five FBS programs to hold opponents under 20 points per game in each of those seasons.

Malzahn and Steele were both spotted at Senior Bowl Week practice in Mobile on Tuesday.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn