1 year 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

8 hours ago

Alabama Power sends hundreds of linemen, support personnel to assist after Tropical Storm Isaias hammered East Coast

Tropical Storm Isaias hit the eastern coast of the United States hard this week, leaving millions of Americans without power while producing high winds, heavy rain and tornadoes.

In the wake of the storm’s wrath, Alabama Power Company on Wednesday morning sent 133 lineworkers and 94 support personnel to New Jersey to assist utility FirstEnergy in its storm response.

A release from the company outlined that Alabama Power upon arrival will support FirstEnergy subsidiary Jersey Central Power and Light, which serves 1.1 million customers in the central and northern parts of the Garden State.

In addition to directly supporting FirstEnergy, Alabama Power advised that it released more than 325 contract lineworkers to assist in storm restoration at various other utilities along the East Coast.

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“Our crews are prepped and ready to offer assistance in the restoration efforts following Tropical Storm Isaias,” stated Kristie Barton, Alabama Power Company’s power delivery services general manager.

“As soon as it is safe to do so, which includes observing all of our COVID-19 safe practices protocol, we’ll be working to restore power as quickly as possible,” she continued.

The company’s help was reportedly coordinated through the mutual assistance program of the Southeastern Electric Exchange, a trade association comprised of several member utilities.

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

9 hours ago

Ivey named to leadership of National Governors Association

The National Governors Association (NGA) on Wednesday announced its new executive committee for 2020-2021, with Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) becoming chair of the association that represents the 55 leaders of all American states and territories.

Members of the executive committee were elected during the NGA summer meeting, which was held in a virtual format this year.

Governor Kay Ivey (R-AL) was one of the governors elected to the nine-member executive committee.

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“I’m honored to have been elected to serve on the [NGA] Executive Committee for 2020-21,” Ivey said in a Wednesday tweet. “I look forward to working with my fellow governors to develop initiatives & policies to support our country now & in the future.”

The NGA recently highlighted Alabama’s workforce development efforts under the Ivey administration as a model for other states to emulate.

Ivey assumed the governor’s office on April 10, 2017. In November 2018, she was elected to her first full term as Alabama’s chief executive. That term will expire in January 2023. Ivey could seek reelection in 2022.

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

10 hours ago

Mo Brooks: Democrats are banking on creating more moochers in 2020

The latest stimulus bill in Congress is tied up for many reasons, but a major sticking point appears to be the continuation of a $600 a week unemployment booster on top of what states already pay in benefits.

With the current impasse, there is currently no bonus to be given to those who are unemployed.

This is creating a battle between those who want to keep the bonus payment going for the foreseeable future and those who believe that the high payment is keeping people from vigorously re-entering the job market.

The stalemate in Washington, D.C. will eventually break. Some form of sweetener will be included, and the battle for stimulus will move on to the next bill.

U.S. Representative Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) views this battle as part of the larger ideological battle in the United States.

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Brooks appeared on WVNN’s “The Dale Jackson Show” on Wednesday and referred to the Democratic Party as “the moocher party.” He said he believes this disconnect all started in the 1960s when Democrats embraced the idea of the “Great Society.”

Brooks opined, “Democrats have discovered that’s a huge voting block that they get in elections, so one way to win an election is to turn more independent, self-reliant voters into moochers.”

The congressman from Huntsville believes this is nothing new and noted how political it all is.

“Democrats perceive that that’s going to help them tremendously in the 2020 elections just a few months from now,” he advised.

My takeaway:

Brooks, of course, is right.

The argument from the media and their Democrats is always going to be some version of: “We want to give you [this] and they don’t because they want you to die.”

Free healthcare, free childcare, free college education, and it never stops.

Stopping any of this is the equivalent of kicking a baby in the face and taking its food.

Democrats have bought into this idea for years, and in the time of rampant unemployment and a pandemic, they will kick their grievance politics into full gear to gain new power.

The House, Senate and presidency are at risk this year. Republicans can give in and extend the $600 unemployment benefit (they will), and Democrats will just move to the next free item.

In 2020, this strategy might work.

Listen:

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN.

12 hours ago

Dollar General opens 450,000 square foot distribution center in Montgomery

Budget shopping chain Dollar General on Wednesday announced the opening of its large, new cold storage distribution center in Montgomery.

The 450,000 square foot facility is the product of a $26 million investment for the company and will support around 65 new jobs in the River Region.

The Montgomery facility is cold storage, meaning it is designed to store goods that must be kept chilled like milk and deli products.

“Welcome to Montgomery Dollar General, thank you for investing in our state and in our people,” said Governor Kay Ivey on Wednesday during a digital event celebrating the facility being opened.

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“We are incredibly grateful for the tremendous support from both state and local officials who helped make this project happen,” remarked Rod West, Dollar General’s vice president of perishables growth and development.

The low-cost retailer opened its first store in Alabama in 1965 and now has around 800 retail locations in the Yellowhammer State.

“Dollar General is a trusted company with a long history in Alabama,” said Elton Dean, Montgomery County Commission chairman, in a statement on Monday.

“The River Region has a lot to offer, and we are thrilled that this esteemed organization, that does business across the country, recognizes that,” Dean added.

Dollar General also has a traditional distribution center in Bessemer and claims to employ approximately 8,100 Alabamians in total.

Montgomery’s new distribution center is located on Mobile Highway, around 15 minutes southwest of downtown.

“We welcome Dollar General and look forward to years of partnership and progress to come,” commented Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed on Wednesday,

The company says it will support around 1,500 stores in surrounding areas and help spur the “DG Fresh” initiative “which is a strategic multi-phased shift to self-distribution of frozen and refrigerated goods such as dairy, deli and frozen products” according to a release.

“We are confident that Dollar General recognized our strong workforce and business-friendly environment when choosing a location for this facility. We are excited to welcome Dollar General and countless companies to come, to grow in Montgomery,” concluded Arthur DuCote, Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce chairman.

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

12 hours ago

Alabama Forestry Association endorses Tommy Tuberville for U.S. Senate

The Alabama Forestry Association (AFA) on Wednesday announced its endorsement of Republican nominee Tommy Tuberville in the Yellowhammer State’s 2020 U.S. Senate race.

Tuberville, after defeating former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in last month’s GOP primary runoff, is set to face U.S. Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) in November’s general election. The AFA had endorsed Sessions in the runoff contest.

In a statement, AFA executive vice president Chris Isaacson said, “We are proud to endorse Tommy Tuberville in the United States Senate race. He is a conservative with an impressive list of accomplishments, and we know that he will continue that record in his role as U.S. Senator.”

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“Tommy knows that decisions made in Washington impact families and businesses and will be an effective voice for the people of Alabama,” he concluded.

This comes as another major endorsement for Tuberville from the agribusiness community. The Alabama Farmers Federation endorsed the former Auburn University football coach last year and has been credited as being integral along his path to securing the Republican nomination.

“I am honored to have the endorsement of the Alabama Forestry Association. The AFA is an excellent organization that stands for pro-business policies. Protecting Alabama industry is a key to our state’s success,” Tuberville stated.

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