Alabama Legislature wraps up education budget

Published 12:29 am Friday, May 1, 2009

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama Legislature wrapped up work Thursday on a $6.2 billion education budget that uses federal stimulus funds to keep thousands of school employees from getting laid off.

The Senate voted 30-0 to go along with minor changes the House made in the budget.

Senate budget committee Chairman Hank Sanders, D-Selma, said federal stimulus funds made the difference in having drastic cuts and layoffs because of the recession or saving jobs and programs.

“With this budget the education of our children continues to go forward rather than sliding backward,” he said.

He said the Legislature worked to pass the budget earlier than normal because school systems have to let teachers know before the end of school in May if they will be retained for the fall, and he didn’t want any questions about the Legislature’s desire to maintain all state-funded teaching positions.

“All school systems will know what they are working with and will not unnecessarily send out pink slips to their employees,” he said.

Paul Hubbert, executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association, worked with legislative leaders to design the budget and prevent several thousand layoffs that would have been necessary without the stimulus.

“It means about 5,000 employees — teachers and support personnel — will have jobs for the next year,” he said.

The $6.2 billion education budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 includes $513 million in federal stimulus funds. It is 7 percent higher than this year’s scaled-down budget of $5.8 billion. This year’s budget was originally supposed to be $6.3 billion, but Gov. Bob Riley had to slice it 9 percent in the middle of the school year because of declining state tax collections.

The new budget now goes to Riley, who can sign it into law or send it back to the Legislature with changes.

Riley’s press secretary, Todd Stacy, said the budget retains about 95 percent of what the governor recommended to the Legislature, but any bill spending $6 billion requires a close review before deciding whether to sign it.

Sally Howell, executive director of the Alabama Association of School Boards, praised the budget and encouraged the governor to sign it.

She said the budget protects state-funded teaching positions. But there may be layoffs in school systems that are getting less state money because of declining enrollment or because of drops in local taxes that pay for some jobs, she said.

In order to provide as much money as possible for jobs, the budget reduced funding for textbooks and eliminated direct funding for school supplies, although other funds can be shifted to that purpose.

Hubbert said it’s better to delay textbook purchases than to lay off teachers and have overcrowded classes.

The state’s other budget, which funds non-education programs, is the $2.2 billion General Fund budget. It has passed the House and a Senate committee. A budget committee chairman, Sen. Roger Bedford, D-Russellville, said he hopes to get the Senate to consider that budget on Tuesday.