House Education Policy Chairman Says Legislature has Crucial Education Measures this Week to Finalize

State Rep. Terri Collins told the Business Council of Alabama’s Government Affairs Committee today that this week’s House and Senate agendas include significant education issues including final passage of the 2015-16 Education Trust Fund budget.

“There are so many things that will be decided this week,” Collins said.

The 2015 regular legislative session beginning today has six legislative work days remaining in its allotted 30 work days. The session must end on or before June 15.

“This is the week that we really need to get bills out of the House, and the Senate needs to get theirs out to the House,” Collins said.

The $6 billion ETF for next year, SB 179 sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne, is nearly home.

The Senate previously passed the ETF budget by a vote of 33-0. Collins serves on the House Ways and Means Education Committee that passed the ETF with an almost unheard of 105-0 vote last week. 

“I’ve never seen such a positive and encouraging time like at the public hearing when the budget passed out of the Senate unanimously as it passed in the House,” Collins said.

The bill passed in different forms so it went to a conference committee. The Senate voting 30-0 on Thursday approved the ETF conference committee report and the House could take up the report today.

The proposed budget includes a number of recommendations that were identified in the Business Education Alliance of Alabama’s 2014 report Obstacles Into Opportunities to improve Alabama’s graduation rate.

These funding priorities include First Class Pre-Kindergarten, Student Assessment, Post secondary Education Dual Enrollment, Distance Learning, Advanced Placement, At-Risk students, and Professional Development.

Another important bill is the Rolling Reserve measure, HB 322, which the House unanimously passed on Thursday, sending it to the Senate.

The Legislature in 2011 passed the Rolling Reserve formula to limit the amount that can be appropriated from the ETF each year, largely to avoid devastating proration, or budget cuts, to schools.

HB 322 by Rep. Bill Poole, R-Northport, would amend the Rolling Reserve Act and authorize a larger appropriation from next fiscal year’s Education Trust Fund than the current funding formula allows.

Collins sponsored HB 664, which would remove the State Board of Education’s authority to confirm appointments to the newly created Public Charter School Commission that is a critical part of the Charter School Law that was enacted earlier this year.

The State Board of Education scheduled a special called meeting at noon today to reconsider its May 14 vote of 4-3 to decline confirming nominees. (The SBOE voted to confirm the appointments.) Collins previously had reacted by filing HB 664 that would remove the board’s authority to appoint members should the board not reconsider prior to a June 1 deadline.

HB 664 would remove the SBOE as the confirming authority and would authorize appointees of the governor, lieutenant governor, Senate president pro tem, and House speaker to serve on the commission. 

“The charter [school] legislation we passed earlier this year, we’re trying to make that a less political process for the commission,” Collins said. “The state school board chose not to participate in the process. I look forward to hearing their comments.”

House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, appointed Collins to the Commission on Earmarking and Budget Reform that will study every aspect of the budget process including earmarking, appropriations, spending oversight, and the fact that Alabama is one of only three states with two separate budgets. “I do look forward to serving on that committee,” Collins said.

There’s already action in the Legislature toward that end. SB 502 by Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, introduced on Thursday, is a proposed constitutional amendment that asks voters to approve a unified state budget. That bill is on Wednesday’s agenda of the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee.

This blog was updated after Collins spoke to the BCA committee to reflect the State Board of Education voting in a special called meeting to approve the Public Charter School Commission members. “We have a great commission,” Collins said on the House floor. Collins then withdrew HB 664 from consideration after the House convened in session at 1 p.m. today.

-Dana Beyerle

Rep. Collins also sat down with Dana Beyerle and Leah Garner to speak about Alabama’s new Public Charter School law and appointments to the Public Charter School Commission for the Business Council of Alabama’s Two-Minute Tuesdays.