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Ala. House approves $5.49 billion education budget

MONTGOMERY (AP) — An education budget that protects most teacher jobs in Alabama but offers little for classroom supplies and textbooks moved a step closer Tuesday to passing the Alabama Legislature.

The Alabama House voted 104-0 to approve a $5.49 billion education budget. Most state-funded teachers are protected, but some education jobs funded by local school boards could be lost. Teachers also would have to pay more if health insurance costs go up during the next year but won’t if they stay steady.

The chairman of the House Education Appropriations Committee, Rep. Richard Lindsey of Centre, said his priority in putting together the recession-year budget was “to keep as many teachers as possible in classrooms.”

To do that, schools will have to sacrifice in other areas, he said.

“They are going to have to take out the duct tape and put it on the binders to keep the textbooks in the classroom for another year,” Lindsey told lawmakers.

The education budget now goes to the Senate for debate. The chairman of the Senate education budget committee, Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, said he likes the House version and expects it will pass the Senate without significant changes.

“I call the education budget a miracle budget,” Sanders said.

The budget would be about 3 percent more than what schools are getting in this year’s scaled-back spending plan. But it would be about 18 percent less than they received in 2008, when the state had its biggest education budget ever.

The budget provides only level funding for popular programs to improve performance by Alabama students in reading and in math and science as well as a distance-learning program that allows students in isolated rural schools to monitor classes being taught in suburban schools in Birmingham or Huntsville.

In order to pay for new school buses for the 2010-2011 school year, the state would borrow $66 million through a bond issue.

Lindsey told Rep. Mary Moore, D-Birmingham, that some support personnel, such as lunchroom workers and janitors, could face layoffs.

“It does not guarantee that every single job can be saved,” Lindsey said.