Education Budget has Few New Dollars

Last week, House General Fund Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, updated the Business Council of Alabama’s Tuesday morning briefing on the status of the proposed 2017-18 General Fund.

Today, the chairs of the House and Senate education budget committees described the 2017-18 Education Trust Fund budget, SB 129 sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, that will soon begin its journey to final passage in the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee chaired by Sen. Orr.

The Business Council of Alabama schedules Tuesday briefings each week during regular legislative sessions for BCA members and features legislators and policy makers.

Today’s briefing was sponsored by Regions Financial Corp. Jeff Rabren, Regions’ senior vice president, state government affairs & economic development, introduced Sen. Orr and Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, chairman of the House Ways and Means Education Budget Committee.

This fiscal year’s discretionary ETF appropriation was $6.3 billion. Sen. Orr said new ETF money that is constrained by the budget cap law will be about $90 million. About $65 million will be designated to K-12 and $25 million or so to higher education, he said.

Public education health insurance has asked for $30 million and teachers’ retirement seeks about $10 million. Pre-K will need $20 million more, which leaves only a few million dollars remaining to distribute, Sen. Orr said.

Sen. Orr said to expect legislation addressing K-12 education technology and workforce development.

The discussion turned to a public policy question about a growing scholarship program for veterans, their spouses, and children that was designed with good intentions but is now an open-ended appropriation that has expanded exponentially.

The veterans’ scholarship program is about $60 million this year but could grow to $90 million next fiscal year, a 50 percent increase, unless the program is changed to limit it to true Alabama residents. “How we address the veterans’ program will have a lasting impact,” Rep. Poole said.

Rep. Poole also said that public employees’ health insurance will need a look.

“We need a public policy discussion,” Rep. Poole said. “I think PEEHIP is doing a good job but we can’t have a blank check for the taxpayers.”