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.”
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