By Phillip Rawls
The Associated Press
MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Legislature has come up with a nearly $5.8 billion education budget for the upcoming school year that will fund a 2 percent pay raise for K-12 employees, give extra money to all levels of education and expand the state’s pre-kindergarten program.
The House voted 70-26 on Thursday afternoon for the budget, which passed the Senate 22-11 Tuesday. Most Republicans supported the budget, while opposition came from Democrats.
The Alabama Legislature also approved a compromise General Fund budget that increases funding for courts and prisons.
The Senate and House voted Thursday night for a compromise budget developed by six legislators. The $1.74 billion budget for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 is 0.4 percent larger than the current budget. It provides more than $5 million extra for the court system and nearly $17 million extra for prisons. Many other programs, including Medicaid and state troopers, will get about the same amount they are receiving this year. The budget does not include a cost-of-living raise for state workers, who got their last raise in October 2008.
Both budgets now go to the governor for review.
The $5.77 billion education plan comes after years of recession-riddled budgets and will spend 3.6 percent more than this year.
“I feel comfortable with the amount of the budget because the economy is improving,” House budget committee Chairman Jay Love, R-Montgomery, said.
The budget is based on K-12 employees getting a 2 percent raise, their first since October 2007. Republican Gov. Robert Bentley recommended 2.5 percent at the start of the legislative session in February, but that was before the Legislature approved tax credits for some parents who send their children to private school. Budget chairmen figured that will reduce the state’s tax revenue by $40 million in the new fiscal year.
Henry Mabry, executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association, said a higher raise and other improvements would have been possible without the tax credits.
“It’s unfortunate that the largest expenditure in the first new money since the Great Recession is being spent on parents of private school children,” Mabry said.
Senate budget committee Chairman Trip Pittman said the budget does not provide raises for higher education employees, but it does provide extra money to colleges in case they want to give raises.
The budget provides an extra $9.4 million to expand Alabama’s voluntary pre-kindergarten program for 4-year-olds. That is less than the $12.5 million recommended by the governor in hopes of adding 2,000 students, but pre-K advocates said it still represented a major advance.
The budget allocates $5 million to provide the state’s first liability insurance for K-12 employees. Democrats said it was an attempt by the Republican majority to weaken the AEA, which provides liability coverage to its members. But Love said, “We are providing the same coverage for teachers that state employees have now.”
The governor’s spokesman, Jeremy King, said Bentley will review the budget before deciding whether to sign it into law. But he said, “We are pleased to see raises for teachers and support workers as well as an increase in funding for voluntary pre-kindergarten, although the amounts are not as high as the governor had proposed.”