Committee OKs $6.7 billion budget
Active teachers to get 7% raise, more funds for textbooks, nurses, distance learning
By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer
MONTGOMERY — A state House committee has approved a record $6.7 billion budget that includes funds to give active teachers a 7-percent raise and to give retired teachers a one-time bonus later this year.
The spending plan approved Wednesday also increases funding for school nurses, textbooks, classroom technology and an initiative to improve student proficiency in math and science. The budget also provides additional money for a program to help at-risk students and for a distance learning initiative that allows students in rural areas to take classes that aren't normally offered at their schools.
The budget approved by the House Education Appropriations Committee is about $450 million more than last year's education spending plan and $1.3 billion more than was spent on education two years ago. The growth in the budget, which is funded mostly by income tax and sales tax revenues, shows the growth in the state's economy over the past four years.
About $250 million of the increase will go toward the pay raise for teachers, which the head of the state's teachers union said will bring the state's teachers close to the average of what educators are making across the Southeast. Alabama Education Association executive secretary Paul Hubbert said teachers had lost ground on some Southern states during the tight budget years earlier this decade.
"I feel good that we are gaining on other states," Hubbert said.
The budget gives retired teachers a one-time bonus, which would be about $720 for a teacher who had retired after 30 years service.
Committee chairman Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, said the retirees are receiving the one-time payment rather than a raise to keep from adding future liability to the pension fund.
The budget and a separate bill granting the pay raise now go to the full House, where they are expected to be debated next week.
Alabama has historically been near the bottom nationally in classroom funding, but Lindsey said this budget should improve the state's ranking.
"We are going to be more competitive in the Southeast in funding education," Lindsey said.
Committee members said having more money available made it harder, not easier, to create the budget.
"It makes it more difficult to fashion a budget because everyone has their hands out," said Rep. James Thomas, D-Selma.
State schools Superintendent Joe Morton will fill many of the needs of schools across the state.
"Virtually all of the needs the state board has identified have been addressed," Morton said.
The budget also includes money to finance a bond issue to build new schools and repair education buildings across the state. Lindsey said he expects his committee to begin work in the next few weeks on a bond issue that's expected to be at least $850 million.
Gov. Bob Riley's finance director, Jim Main, said he was disappointed the budget includes only $8 million for work force development rather than the $30 million requested by the governor.
Main said the money is needed to train workers for new industries coming into the state.
"We've only come from fair to good in economic development in the state. We'd like to go from good to great," Main said.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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