Alabama House Approves Largest-Ever Education Budget

The state approved $7.7 billion for the 2022 fiscal year, $452 million more than last year’s allocation. Teachers and education employees in public schools and community colleges will also receive a 2 percent raise.

(TNS) — Public education in Alabama would receive its largest ever amount of state dollars in the annual budget passed by the House of Representatives today.

The budget is for the 2022 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1. It appropriates $7.7 billion from the Education Trust Fund, which would be $452 million more than this year, about a 6 percent increase.

The budget funds a 2 percent raise for teachers and education employees in public schools and community colleges. The House approved a separate bill for the raise by a vote of 100-1.

“We’re going to ask a lot of our teachers,” Rep. Bill Poole, R- Tuscaloosa, chairman of the House education budget committee, said. “We know they’re up for that. We appreciate and are thankful for them. So this is an opportunity for us to reward them as they work hard for our children.”

The House approved the budget by a vote of 101-1. The legislation returns to the Senate, which had already passed it. The Senate could agree to changes made by the House and give the bill final passage, or send it to a conference committee.

The budget also includes funding for a new plan to boost pay for math and science teachers to target a shortage of qualified teachers in those subjects in grades 6-12. The budget allocates $100 million for that program. Poole singled that out as one of the most important investments in the budget.

The biggest line item on the spreadsheet goes to local boards of education. They would get $4.6 billion, or $207 million more than this year, about a 5 percent increase.

The Alabama Community College System would receive $470 million, a 10 percent increase.

Alabama’s prekindergarten program, called First Class, would receive $151 million, an increase of $24 million, or 19 percent.

Poole said four-year universities would get a total increase of about $90 million, a boos of at least 6 percent for each university’s appropriation.

Income taxes and sales taxes are the biggest sources of money for the Education Trust Fund. Poole said the resilience of the Alabama economy and conservative budgeting in recent years helped put the state in position for a record education budget despite the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It really is a monumental credit and success story for Alabama, that has not fared well in economic downturns in the past,” Poole said. “But in this pandemic, our state, our citizens, our businesses have been resilient. The economy has been resilient. We were very concerned about the economic impact and the economic impact has been very substantial. But the resiliency of our economy has allowed us to pass an improved budget addressing these targeted needs.”

The budget will boost funding for special education, school nurses, classroom materials, classroom technology, and transportation.

It sets aside $95 million to allocate to school systems who lost enrollment last year because of the pandemic. The “teacher stabilization” funding will be used as a one-time supplement for systems that might otherwise have to reduce the number of teachers because state funding for teaching positions is based on enrollment.

“We know we have anomalies in our classroom enrollment right now because of COVID,” Poole said. “So what we did not want to occur was to eliminate teaching positions based on artificially depressed enrollment numbers in schools, only to have those students walk back in in the fall and not have enough teachers for them.”

Alabama’s education budget has increased every year since dropping by more than $1 billion after the Great Recession. Last year, lawmaker scaled back their initial plans for the 2021 budget, this year’s budget, because of the revenue uncertainty caused by the pandemic, but it was still larger than the budget for 2020.

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