The Education Trust Fund budget is awaiting action in the full Senate after versions passed the House and the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee.
The House version of the budget includes funding for the expansion of pre-k and a 2% pay raise for education employees, but the budget also cuts or does not increase funding for educational programs that have been proven to be good investments. Alternatively, the Senate version that passed out of committee includes a 1% pay raise for education employees with a possible 1% “bonus” if the revenue is available and meets the Alabama State Department of Education’s requests for increases in funding for effective programs. Education employees have not received a raise since 2008, and the 1% increase would prevent the state from committing to an unsustainable pay raise based on shaky tax revenue.
The House budget would increase funding for the state’s high quality pre-k program, First Class, by $12.5 million, the first step over ten years to offer universal, voluntary pre-k to all Alabama students. Currently, only 6% of eligible 4-year-olds in Alabama are able to enroll in the state’s high quality pre-k program. The Senate version, as it currently stands, would only increase pre-k funding by $6.5 million.
Under both budget plans, funding for the much-lauded Alabama Reading Initiative (ARI) would be cut to $48 million from $58 million. State Supt. Tommy Bice had requested this $10 million be used for Comprehensive Human Capital Planning to improve Alabama’s teacher recruitment, development and retention, but legislators in both chambers have—so far—ignored that request. Instead, they simply cut that $10 million in funding from ARI without a dedicated repurposing of it.
The Senate budget includes ALSDE’s requested $1.5 million increase for Advanced Placement (AP) line item, and also a $5 million increase for the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative (AMSTI). The House budget level-funds both of these programs. State Superintendent Tommy Bice originally requested an increase in AP funding to $5.2 million, up from $2.2 million to allow 20 more schools to expand their AP offerings that have helped Alabama to lead the nation in gains in the number of passing scores on math, science and English AP exams for all students and minority students.
Additionally, the Senate budget would provide enough funds for the ALSDE to increase funding for Other Current Expenses (OCE) by $18 million. OCE helps systems fund non-certified personnel and cover other costs like utilities will not be increased under the current plan. OCE funding has ben cut 27% since 2008. The House budget does not include funding that would allow for this increase.
A+ will provide updates as the budget discussions progress.