Members of the House Ways and Means Education Committee voted 9-3 in favor of a $5.74 billion proposed Education Trust Fund budget — a budget that, if approved by the full Legislature, would give K-12 education workers a pay raise and devote $5 million to providing liability insurance for teachers.
“I would like to do more, but we are still recovering from the effects of the Great Recession,” said Rep. Jay Love, R-Montgomery, who chairs the committee.
Love’s proposed budget gives Gov. Robert Bentley some of the items on the wish list unveiled in his State of the State address. Bentley wanted a 2.5 percent pay raise, more than the House budget proposes. But like the governor’s education budget proposal, the House version keeps most agencies at the same funding level they saw in 2013.
The House budget also increases funding for the state’s pre-kindergarten program from $19 million to $31 million, something advocates have said they’d like to be the start of a 10-year push to expand the program to every 4-year-old in the state.
The proposed teacher pay raise has seen little opposition — possibly because teachers haven't had a raise since before the 2008 recession. Members of the House committee did question the proposal to spend $5 million on a program to provide liability insurance for teachers. Critics say that proposal is an attempt to decrease the membership in the Alabama Education Association, the politically outspoken teachers’ association that offers liability coverage to its members.
"I question the motive behind this line item," said Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, who proposed an amendment to devote the $5 million to teacher pay raises. The committee rejected the amendment.
Love said the program was created not to hurt the union, but to provide a new benefit to teachers.
"I know some teachers who are paying up to $500 a year to purchase insurance," he said. "This is money they could put in their pockets."
Only one person, a teacher from Hokes Bluff, rose to speak in a public hearing on the pay raise Tuesday. But as the committee met, teachers from the AEA gathered at the Statehouse for a rally in favor of more money for schools.
Some said the real issue in the state budget was the $50 million to $60 million in revenue the state expects to lose to the Alabama Accountability Act, a law passed this year which creates a tax credit for parents of children zoned for “failing” public schools.
Teachers said the bill takes money from public schools to give primarily to parents whose kids are already in private schools.
“The rich will have help paying for their kids’ private education,” said Ruby Jiles, a guidance counselor at Brewbaker Primary School in Montgomery. “But who's paying the balance?”
Teachers said the 2 percent pay raise wasn't enough to make up for the cuts in take-home pay they’ve seen in recent years, with the Legislature increasing the amount they must pay toward their retirement and health insurance.
Love pointed out that his budget did include a pay increase for teachers and an increase for schools overall.
“We're increasing funding for education by 3 percent,” he said. Without the Accountability Act, he acknowledged, the increase would have been 4 percent.
With the Legislature in the last half of its session, lawmakers seem prepared to move the education budget through both houses fairly quickly. Love said he expected the House budget to come up for debate in the full House this afternoon.
Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.