House Education Budget Chair addresses Governmental Affairs Committee (VIDEO)

The chairman of the House Ways and Means Education Budget Committee told the Business Council of Alabama’s Governmental Affairs Committee today that the 2014-15 budgets will dominate second half of the 2014 regular legislative session that has reached its halfway point.

State Rep. Bill Poole, R-Northport, was speaking about the Education Trust Fund budget that pays for public education and the General Fund budget, which sets spending for non-education functions such as state troopers and Medicaid.

“We’ll take up the General Fund in the House this week and I expect the education budget to be taken up by the Senate and hope it to be passed out this week,” said Poole, who succeeded Rep. Jay Love, R-Montgomery, as chairman of the House education money committee.

Poole said repayment of the education rainy day fund is the paramount issue for the Education Trust Fund because, constitutionally, the remaining $128 million balance has to be repaid by the end of the 2015 fiscal year.

Poole said this year’s ETF contains a $65 million appropriation for debt reduction but it’s conditioned on whether the economy can produce the amount. “You could see us increase that additional appropriation this year, so if additional dollars come in we’ll pay as much as possible,” he said.

Plus, he said, there’s the potential for a $70 million carryover in this year’s budget to begin the 2015 year on Oct. 1, 2014.

However, real life trumps expectations in historic budget items such as funding increased costs in education employee health insurance, known as PEEHIP, and tweaking the teacher-student ratio in middle schools in an attempt to counter an unacceptable student dropout rate.

“You can see how much expense there is in the ’15 budget and (the available money) is not going to stretch,” he said. “We need to see how much pressure is on the budget and put money into classrooms and into programs that work.”

Poole said the ETF still suffers from the 2008 recession, the year when the state appropriation to education was $6.75 billion. The appropriation this fiscal year is $5.75 billion, an indicator that the economic recovery hasn’t been sufficient.

Poole said the House will wait on the Senate to deal with attempts to unravel Common Core in Alabama’s schools. The BCA and education groups opposed attempts to rescind Common Core.

In summation, Poole said the budget appropriation will be determined by “how much we can roll over and pay down on the rainy day” account, a savings account that was set up to supplement the budget through declining tax revenues due to tough economic times.

-Dana Beyerle