MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama Senate on Thursday approved a 4% pay increase for teachers and other public school employees as part of a record $7 billion education spending plan.
Senators on Thursday approved the pay raise and education trust fund budget, sending both bills to the House of Representatives. The education budget, which is fueled by sales and income taxes, rebounded past pre-recession levels of 2008 to hit a record high.
Sen. Arthur Orr, chairman of the budget writing committee, said the raise was a start to trying to address a teacher shortage in the state. "If you look at our educators now, they have just caught up with inflation from 2008," said Orr, R-Decatur.
"We've got to grow that number as far as compensation because we don't have the educators going into education like we used to and the way to attract them is hard dollars in their pocket," he added.
The increase would take starting pay for a teacher with a bachelor's degree to $40,873. Orr said he understands that would get starting pay above the $40,000 mark for the first time.
The budget provides an additional $27 million for the state's voluntary prekindergarten and money to reduce classroom size in grades four through six.
Senators approved the pay raise without a dissenting vote. The budget was approved on a 28-2 vote.
Sen. Vivian Davis Figures said she voted no because she was concerned about money that was set aside for charter schools and the fact that there was not a cost-of-living increase for retired educators. The budget provides $900,000 to the state charter school commission.
"We can always find enough money to start charter schools. We can find enough money now to help people set up charter schools which will further deplete education trust fund money. We've never really adequately funded education in the state of Alabama," said Davis Figures, D-Mobile.
Orr said it was "regrettable" that they did not have sufficient money for a retiree bonus and said that is "something we are going to continue to look at."
The Republican budget chairman said there are competing education needs, including many that the state has not been able to address.
"We still haven't funded higher education back at 2008 levels. How do they make that up? Through tuition increases. That makes it very costly on Alabama families as they try to send their kids onto college," Orr said.
Other notable increases in the budget includes additional money for English language education, the Alabama Reading Initiative and restoring transportation funding to 2008 levels.