During the last days of the session, the Alabama Legislature passed a $5.77 billion education budget for the upcoming school year. The budget provides for a 2 percent raise for K-12 employees, their first since October 2007. Our failure to pay teachers a decent wage is a sad state of affairs and it hurt our state. We must pay our teachers adequately, and give them the support they need and deserve. That’s long overdue. 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 parents who send their children to private school. Nobody seems to know how much this ill-advised plan will cost public education, but it will certainly be costly.
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 an advance. The budget allocates $5 million to provide the state’s first liability insurance for K-12 employees. This is an obvious attempt by the Republican majority to weaken AEA, which already provides liability coverage to its members.
Unfortunately, the Alabama Legislature has never really made public education our state’s top priority. In fact, over the past decade the plight of public education has become much worse. As a result, many good teachers have had to look to other states for employment. We have lost some good teachers as a result. While there were some good things in the current budget, those were offset by some extremely bad things. The prime example of the bad is the “private school” bill, called the Alabama Accountability Act, referred to above. More will be said on that legislation in another section of the issue. Suffice to say, the Alabama Affordability Act will go down in history as having dealt a crippling blow to public education in Alabama.
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