Alabama Legislature gives final approval to education budget, supplemental spending

By: - May 26, 2023 7:00 am
A meeting of the Alabama House of Representatives

The Alabama House of Representatives in session on March 14, 2023. (Stew Milne for Alabama Reflector)

The Alabama Legislature approved the $8.8 billion Education Trust Fund budget and a $2.7 billion supplemental funding bill on Thursday night, sending them to Gov. Kay Ivey after a marathon day with multiple meetings.

The Senate approved a compromise version of the Education Trust Fund on a 31-0 vote on Thursday night.  The House approved it early Friday morning by a vote of 102-0 with one abstention.

The package includes a 2% raise for education employees; income tax refunds, and increased funding for schools and colleges.

The budget increases funding by 6.5% over the current year. $6 billion would go to K-12 education, $2.25 billion for higher education, and about $518 million designated as other expenditures.

Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, the chair of the House Ways and Means Education committee, highlighted the salaries in the bill during a House debate Thursday.

“There is a 2% (salary) increase for all K-12 teachers, community college instructors, support personnel, and certificated personnel, which is $98.5 million.” he said. “And support personnel will receive at least $15 an hour in their pay.”

About $20 million will be allocated to renew fleet vehicles for transportation and $94.2 million for the Alabama Reading Initiative, which is the same amount that was provided last year. The Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative would get $73 million, an increase of $25 million or about 52%.

There was almost $13 million for pre-K education between the ETF and supplemental.

Colleges and universities will be given about $1.55 billion, an increase of $104.3 million or roughly 7.2%.

The community college system got a $35.5 million increase (6.9%) to $551 million. But Rep. A.J. McCampbell, D-Linden was concerned about transparency in community college spending.

“Between the Educational Trust Fund and the supplemental funding, we are going to put over $1 billion into the Alabama two-year college system,” McCampbell said in an interview after the House passed the budget. “When we are putting that much money into one entity, and we are not getting any timely reports, we are not getting any reports actually. We are the stewards of the money for the state of Alabama. We need to be able to assess whether you are spending those funds in a beneficial manner for the whole state.”

As an example, he criticized there was no line item funding for each of the two-year colleges.

“The allocation that goes to each college is determined by the formula that they use to allocate the money,” Garrett said.

The budget provides about $10 million to underperforming schools, and $5.4 million as an auxiliary grant program for teachers there.

“How did we get to that amount?” Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, asked Garrett during the floor debate.

Garrett said they were trying to get extra funding to schools that were struggling.

“When you allocate money according to the formula, nobody moves up,” he said. “So we made some changes in the last several years … one of the things that we did was to go into these underperforming schools, the lowest 6%, and basically insert tutoring, we got $5.5 million for auxiliary teachers. Part of the problem last year was that we funded that, but the fiscal year started in October, so it wasn’t available until then, so now we are catching up from that.”

McCampbell also criticized the standalone funding within the supplemental education budget during the floor debate.

About $480 million in one-time funding will be allocated to the Department of Education, roughly $7.4 million more than what the Senate approved. About $108 million in one-time funding will go toward the Department of Commerce, about $3 million less than the Senate.

Universities were also allocated funding. The University of Alabama, UAB and Auburn University would each receive about $66 million in one-time funding. The University of Alabama funding includes $8 million for the Saban Center, a planned children’s museum with a science and technology focus in Tuscaloosa.

Rep. Tracy Estes, R-Winfield, expressed concerns about the supplemental budget, citing $100 million going to pay for prison education and saying he was disappointed that the raise for education employees wasn’t higher.

“That $100 million is to build educational facilities at the prison,” Garrett said. “Prison education is a huge component of the prison system, the education system and the workforce.”

House and Senate negotiators wrangled over changes to the Rolling Reserve, a cap on spending in the Education Trust Fund budget, and the size of income tax refunds.

Originally, the cap was set at a 6.5% increase year over year and began decreasing by a half of a percent each year until it decreased to a 5% increase spending cap. The new cap on the increase in spending starts at the same place, 6.5% but decreases each year at 25 basis points until it reaches an increase year over year to 5.75%.

The Senate earlier this month approved income tax refunds of $105 per individual filer and $210 for couples. The House on Thursday approved a measure that would have doubled those numbers to $210 per individual and $420 for couples.  The budgets as passed set them at $150 per person and $300 for couples. Gov. Kay Ivey had requested a rebate of $400 per person.

“With the reduction in the rebate amount, there was $157 million new dollars that came from the rebate as the House passed it,” Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, the chair of the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee.

That amount will not be distributed across several line items within the supplemental budget.

From the $157 million, $75 million will go to a fund overseen by Lt. Gov. William Ainsworth to provide grants to fund education. That new total available for that fund is $179 million for K-12 capital expenses throughout the state.

The Educational Opportunities Reserve Fund in the Education Trust Fund will also receive a portion of the $157 million that is available, increasing it to $150 million between the Capital Fund and the Savings Account.

The savings from the $157 million will be given to different departments and higher education institutions.

Another $15 million will be allocated to the Department of Commerce for the Lauderdale Training Center. The Department of Public Health will receive $2.5 million for the Parkinson Association in Birmingham. The Geological Survey will get $400,000. Alabama Industrial Development Training gets an additional $125,000.

Community colleges will also get money. Snead State Community College will get an account that was disclosed at the meeting. Calhoun Community College receives $200,000, while the University of West Alabama that will get $87,500.

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Ralph Chapoco
Ralph Chapoco

Ralph Chapoco covers state politics as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. His main responsibility is the criminal justice system in Alabama.