Record funding expected for Alabama schools

Record funding expected for Alabama schools

(Ala.). An improving economy fueled by job growth and wage increases could boost education funding in Alabama by as much as $1 billion next year.

Lawmakers approved a record $6.6 billion spending plan last spring for both the state’s K-12 system and public colleges, which was at the time a record amount.

As the final tally on the 2017-18 fiscal year has been completed, state fiscal officers also announced that schools will share an additional $272 million in unanticipated revenue—about $198 million going to K-12 districts, according to Kirk Fulford, the Deputy Director of the fiscal division of the state's Legislative Services Agency.

The good news comes, however, as the state’s teachers union is embroiled in a lawsuit with its health care provider over a rate increase. In arguments made last month before the Alabama Supreme Court, attorneys for the teachers claimed that the Public Education Employees Health Insurance Plan illegally approved a premium increase that all but wiped out a pay increase the Legislature provided teachers in 2016.

Union leaders, however, are not optimistic that much of the new money will go toward salaries.

“People are taking Alabama educators for granted,” Theron Stokes, executive director of the Alabama Education Association told the Montgomery Advertiser. “How do you become a legislator or businessman before are being taught by someone in a public school?”

Alabama schools were hit hard in the 2008 recession, with funding cuts of more than $1 billion.

The growth in state revenue has been fueled by personal income taxes, which represents a little more than a third of all collections. Alabama also has a general sales tax that provides another 26 percent, and specific sales taxes of another 25 percent on items such as cigarettes, liquor and gasoline.

Although teachers jammed the high court hearing on the health care case last month, educators in Alabama were not swept up in the labor unrest that hit many other states this year—even though teachers here have been historically among the lowest-paid in the U.S.

According to a survey earlier this year by USA Today, the median salary for a teacher in Alabama is $49,777, which ranks 36th in the nation.

But two years ago, lawmakers also provided teachers earning less than $75,000 a 4 percent pay hike and those that earned more got a 2 percent increase.

In March, Gov. Kay Ivey signed legislation that ordered another 2.5 percent pay hike.

In the health care suit, teachers won at the trial level when a Montgomery County judge found that the board of the insurance plan had violated the state’s open meetings law.

Officers from the insurance group claim that a closed-door session on the rate increase was held only for informational purposes and that the rate hike was done in public.

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