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The House Ways and Means Education Committee approved this significant raise with little hesitation. Additionally, committee members approved an education budget that contains a $20 million expansion of the state’s prekindergarten program.
The budget moves to the full chamber for consideration. If approved, the 2019 Education Trust Fund budget, expected to go into effect in October, will be the largest ETF since the beginning of the Great Recession.
The education budget would total almost $6.7 billion.
Over the past few years, teachers and school staff have started fighting for better pay. Teachers account for about half of a school’s workforce, with guidance counselors, speech therapists, nurses, and other vital positions making up the other half. There has been a drastic shortage of teachers and other school staff due to low budgets and funding.
Most of the budget increase – $102.4 million – will account for the pay raise for education employees in K-12 schools and colleges. Teachers are paid based on their highest education level and the number of years they’ve put into the classroom. This means a teacher with 15 to 18 years of experience on top of a master’s degree could see their annual pay increase by $1,336.
With the understanding that out-of-pocket costs will not increase for employees, legislators funded the Public Education Employee Health Insurance Program at the level the governing board requested.
Furthermore, the proposal consists of an increase of $5 million to the Alabama Reading Initiative, $4.2 million for new technology, $5.4 million for student materials, $3.9 million for transportation, $2.6 million for fleet maintenance, and $1.9 million for technology coordinators.
“This is a great budget for the state of Alabama,” committee chair Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, said after a public hearing on the proposal. “It is a positive budget. It reflects some economic growth the state is having relative to increased revenues, and I think it really is able to touch in a positive way every component of education in the state.”
The strong economy was a large contributing factor in helping the Education Trust Fund. The fund gets most of its income from income and sales taxes. Because the Legislative Fiscal Office projects the budget to grow about 3.4% next year, legislators will be given an extra $219 million.
The budget will also allow about 197 fourth-to-sixth grade teachers to be hired, which seems relatively small compared to the state’s 30,000 teachers, but legislators are saying every bit helps.