House committee advances education budget
MONTGOMERY — The Ways and Means Education committee of the Alabama House of Representatives advanced a $7.2 billion budget on Wednesday, with $91 million in increases from the previous year.
The budget, which would be in effect for fiscal year 2021, is much more modest than what had been discussed by leaders before the coronavirus pandemic struck the country.
Early proposals like pay raises for teachers are gone, and a big increase for the state’s First Class Pre-k program was pared down significantly.
Committee Chairman Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa) gave credit to the state’s rolling reserve system and other “careful, strategic, conservative budgeting” practices for the ability to pass a budget with small funding increases amidst economic conditions that are decreasing tax revenue.
Poole explained that the state had $300 million in a stabilization account and $512 million in a fund created by higher than expected revenue in the last few years.
Together, portions of those accounts will go to offsetting the revenue decreases caused by the coronavirus precautions.
“We are very fortunate in our state to be able to weather extraordinarily well this fiscal shock,” remarked Poole.
One new expenditure in the budget is an investment of over $5 million for mental health service coordinators in school systems across the state.
Mental health care is a top priority for House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville), a member of the House Ways and Means Education Committee.
Poole said that if any teachers around the state are laid off, it is because of a lack of local revenue, not state funding. He added that the budget passed Tuesday by his committee tried to offset that where possible.
All of Alabama’s institutions of higher education would receive a 2.4% increase from the previous year’s funding if the budget passes unaltered.
An increased investment of $2 million dollars is being made in the state’s nursing schools.
“Certainly won’t be enough,” said Poole of the nursing investment, before adding “it is the best we can do for right now.”