New Education Trust Fund Budget signed into law

Published 4:16 pm Friday, April 18, 2014

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley announced April 11 that he signed the Fiscal Year 2015 Education Trust Fund Budget, which does not include a pay raise for teachers and support personnel.

“We would love to have had more for our teachers, but we’ll do the best we can with what we get,” Chilton County Schools Superintendent Dave Hayden said.

The education budget was passed April 3, minutes before the Legislature adjourned, preventing Bentley’s ability to attach any executive amendments to the bill, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

Bentley announced in March his intention to attach an executive amendment to the budget, which would provide a 2-percent pay raise for teachers and support personnel.

“I am disappointed that the Legislature decided not to provide a pay raise for our hard-working teachers and support personnel,” Bentley said in the release. “It is clear to me that the Legislature has no intention of passing a pay raise for teachers and support personnel at this time.

“Therefore, I will not call a special session right now. However, I will keep a close watch on incoming revenues over the next few months, and will consider asking the Legislature to support a mid-year pay raise for teachers and support personnel if the revenues are there to support it.”

State Sen. Cam Ward said he was disappointed as well that the teacher pay raise was not included in the budget.

“I voted against the education budget because I was the sponsor of the teacher pay raise, so I felt like I was on the same page as the governor,” Ward said. “I really felt we really needed that 2-percent pay raise.”

The 2-percent pay raise for teachers and support personnel would have cost about $60 million, Ward said.

“I’m still an advocate for the 2-percent pay raise,” Ward said. “I’m disappointed in that, but I think the rest of the budget was a very fair budget. Going forward, retirement and health insurance increases are going to be the biggest challenges.”

Ward said the $5.9 billion education budget for FY 2015 sends funding directly into classrooms and local school districts. The budget includes an increase in money allotted to middle schools to decrease class sizes and allow for hiring new middle school teachers, as well as an additional $2.7 million for textbooks.

“Also, a big issue that has been addressed is the amount of money that local school boards have to spend on transportation,” Ward said, adding that transportation funding increased by $3.8 million.

Additionally, $600,000 more will be dedicated to classroom supplies, and the new budget added $70 million more than last year’s budget to ensure teachers do not have to pay more for health insurance through Public Education Employees’ Health Insurance Plan (PEEHIP).

Bentley said he appreciates the Legislature’s support to fully fund PEEHIP, so that no teacher or support personnel will have to pay out-of-pocket for their health insurance benefits.

“I appreciate their hard work and cooperation with me in that effort,” Bentley said. “The FY2015 Education Trust Fund Budget is a good budget and supports many important programs and initiatives that prepare students for success, many of which I called for in my State of the State address.”

State Rep. Kurt Wallace described the budget as “fiscally sound.”

Wallace said over the last eight years, teachers have received raises totaling 20 percent.

“I think we’re getting a very responsible budget,” Wallace said. “We only have so much money. We met the needs of teachers as best we could. Hopefully next year if our economy improves, we’ll do more.”

Wallace and Ward said Other Current Expense (OCE) funds also increased by $3 million. OCE funds are discretionary funds given to local school systems, which determine the best use of the funds for their individual student populations.

“You’ve got to be able to move some money around to meet the needs of your particular school,” Wallace said.

The FY 2015 Education Trust Fund Budget includes:

•PEEHIP funding set at $780 per member per month that will not include any out-of-pocket costs for health insurance premiums for teachers or support personnel.

•$10 million increase for Pre-K funding for 100 additional classrooms and 1,800 additional students to participate in the program.

•Increase of $6 million in Dual Enrollment expansion.

•Appropriates $7.7 million in Career Tech.

•Appropriates $1.2 million for Career Coaches.

•Protects funding for important programs like ARI, AMSTI and Distance Learning.