The 2018 Regular Session of the Alabama Legislature concluded on March 29. It was a very productive session and one thankfully free of the political turmoil that made last year so difficult. As …
The 2018 Regular Session of the Alabama Legislature concluded on March 29. It was a very productive session and one thankfully free of the political turmoil that made last year so difficult. As we finish this year’s session, I want to give you a quick summary of a few highlights.
First things first: In matters of state public policy, nothing is more important than ensuring that every child in every county in Alabama has access to a top-notch education. It is no exaggeration to say that the success of our state depends on how well we educate our young people.
This session, the Legislature approved a $6.6 billion education budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2019, which starts Oct. 1, and a 2.5 percent pay raise for teachers and education support personnel. It is the largest education budget since the great recession of 2008.
The FY19 education budget includes a $18.5 million increase for First Class, Alabama’s nationally-recognized, volunteer pre-kindergarten program. A University of Alabama at Birmingham study, released in February by the Department of Early Childhood Education, showed that students who participated in First Class outperformed their peers in reading and math assessments. First Class, currently available in 941 classrooms, has been named the nation’s best pre-kindergarten program for 11 years in a row by the National Institute for Early Education Research. The $18.5 million increase will help fund approximately 120 new Pre-K classrooms.
This is a sustainable, fiscally-responsible budget that allows schools to plan. From 2001 to 2011, proration – the sudden, midyear slashing of local school budgets because of irresponsible fiscal plans from the Legislature – occurred six times. Proration hasn’t happened once since 2011.
The Education Trust Fund Budget includes the 2.5 percent pay raise for K-12 and two-year college education employees, at a cost of $102 million to Alabama taxpayers, along with a $1.1 million uptick for K-12 career tech and a $6 million increase for K-12 transportation.
The FY19 education budget also includes funds for a new robotics program for middle and high school students, and, at the request of Gov. Kay Ivey, allocates $500,000 for mental health counselors to be available for K-12 students in the aftermath of school shootings. The budget boosts spending on textbooks by $11 million, along with a $4 million increase for new technologies in classrooms.
Additionally, the Legislature approved a proposal that will allow local school boards to use money from the Advancement and Technology Fund to improve school security by hiring new security officers and installing metal detectors at school entrances. The answer to improving security at our schools isn’t to violate the Second Amendment rights of American citizens, but rather to increase funds for more security guards and empower local school districts with the flexibility to pursue the solutions that work best for them.
So, those are the details on the education budget.
The Legislature also passed a tax cut for lower and middle-income earners by increasing the income threshold for Alabamians who can claim the maximum exemption from state income taxes. I and other conservatives in the state Legislature were determined to follow President Trump’s lead and cut taxes for Alabamians. Collectively, Alabama’s working families will save $40 million over the next 10 years due to the Legislature’s tax break.
Thanks to an increase in the budget for the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA), there will also soon be an additional 30 state troopers on the road.
I was very glad to support and vote for the Parks for Patriots Act, which gives active military members and veterans free admission to Alabama’s 22 state parks.
Finally, I was proud to sponsor a bill that will allow UAB to establish a Rural Hospital Resource Center. Alabama’s rural hospitals are facing a lot of challenges right now, and UAB’s Center will give rural hospitals access to world-class physicians and researchers, along with the latest innovations in health care management.
Thank you for the opportunity to represent you in the Alabama State Senate. Please give my office a call at (334) 242-7875 if you have a question about a particular bill from the legislative session.
(Greg Reed is the Alabama Senate majority leader and represents Senate District 5, which is comprised of all or parts of Winston, Walker, Tuscaloosa, Jefferson, and Fayette counties.)