House passes education budget

Published 6:43 pm Wednesday, May 29, 2019

MONTGOMERY — Legislators in the Alabama House of Representatives approved a 4 percent increase Tuesday for teachers and public school employees as a part of a $7.1 billion education budget.

The House voted unanimously to increase the pay for teachers in the bill, which will head to a conference committee to work out differences between the House and Alabama Senate. The budget provides an additional $27 million for the state’s voluntary prekindergarten as well as money to reduce classroom size in grades four through six.

There were disagreements about how to fund the state’s costs for the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Another conflict came from how the expenses should be shared between the state’s two budgets — the education trust fund, which pays for education prisons and the general fund, which pays for state services such as Medicaid and prison.

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Once those numbers are square, the bill will head to Gov. Kay Ivey, who is expected to sign the bill. She called for the raise in her State of State speech in March.

Additionally, the bill includes a starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree to $40,873.

Bob Fincher, R-Wedowee, said the extra money is necessary to get teachers in the classroom.

“We have a teacher shortage, especially in the secondary schools,” he said. “Our high schools are having troubles locating qualified teachers.”

He said other bills in the House are trying to make it easier to get teachers in the classroom.

Debbie Wood, R-Valley, said the increases, and the starting salary is a way to keep Alabama competitive with other states.

“Trying to keep our educators here is one of the biggest problems that we have,” she said. “We have really good insurance and really good retirement, but it costs a lot to live today.”

Lanett Superintendent Phillip Johnson said there is no way to compensate teachers for the impression they make on a child’s life, but it’s a start to increase their salary.

“You think of employees across the world who make high six-figure salaries, and every one of those people, including doctors, athletes and those in Hollywood, all of those people were influenced by a teacher,” he said.

He said it takes talent to be a brain surgeon or to throw a football in the NFL, but there was a teacher there to form the foundation for that success.

The proposed $7 billion education trust fund budget would be the largest in state history, although it still lags 2008 levels when adjusted for inflation.

Wood said there were changes to educator’s retirement as well.

She said people can now retire after 30 years in service. Additionally, retirees have the option to take two years of retirement up front if they wanted.

“The retired educators now have options with their money, and that is what we were trying to do,” she said.

Fincher said there has been economic growth and the bill has increases built in across the board. He said transportation, general funds, library enhancements and more funding for K-4 programs are in the budget.

“I think it is a strong education budget, and I think the people out in the school systems should be happy with this,” he said.