House Ways and Means Education Committee Chairman Bill Poole addressed today’s Business Council of Alabama’s Tuesday Briefing that was held at the midpoint of the 2016 legislative session.
Speaking on the 15th day of the session that cannot last beyond 30 working days, Rep. Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, said the House is ahead of its “normal” schedule, already having sent the proposed $6.3 billion, 2016-17 Education Trust Fund budget to the Senate.
“The ETF passed out of the House a week ago unanimously,” Rep. Poole said.
BCA Tuesday Briefings feature legislative leadership and administration officials who discuss topics of interest to Alabama’s business community.
Today’s Tuesday Briefing was sponsored by the University of Alabama System.
Rep. Poole was introduced by UA System Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Operating Officer Ray Hayes. Last summer, the UA System Board of Trustees chose Hayes to succeed UA System Chancellor Robert Witt as chancellor on Sept. 1, 2016, when Witt retires.
Rep. Poole mentioned some of the line-item appropriations in the proposed ETF are important to the business community and are designed to improve student outcomes.
The House version appropriates an additional $14 million to voluntary pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds, bringing Pre-K funding to $62.5 million. A $14 million increase would add about 150 classrooms and enroll about 2,700 more 4-year-olds. Fully funding voluntary Pre-K is a BCA and Business Education Alliance of Alabama priority.
“We’re very pleased to be able to invest in voluntary Pre-K,” Rep. Poole said.
The pupil-teacher class ratio for grades 7-12 will be adjusted to reduce the number of students per teacher, he said, and the class size adjustment will necessitate hiring 475 more teachers in those grades.
The ETF also contains a $2 million increase for career-tech instructors, $1 million each for Advanced Placement and Distance Learning, $5 million for classroom technical support, $1.6 million for classroom supplies, and fully funding PEEHIP and teacher retirement.
The bill would appropriate a $2 million salary supplement to recruit career-tech instructors from the private sector for hard-to-fill jobs in order to remain competitive.
Schools will receive additional Other Current Expense funding and four-year schools will get a 1 percent boost in their Operations and Maintenance appropriation.
Teachers, support employees, and administrators, will get raises depending on their current salaries. Those making more than $75,000 a year will receive a 2 percent raise and those earning less than $75,000 and two-year school employees will receive raises of 4 percent.
He said the differential is designed to prevent a widening pay gap and to encourage classroom teachers.
Rep. Poole said the remainder of the legislative session will include dealing with the General Fund, road and bridge infrastructure improvement, and possibly a state lottery. “It’s going to be an interesting half of the session,” Rep. Poole said.