Alabama’s education budget meets many needs

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 24, 2006

Ask anyone throughout Alabama to name the most important statewide issue, and they will probably tell you it is concern about the education of our children. This year the needs of our schools were many; but with our new Education Budget many of those needs will be met.

Last week, the House passed a record $6.2 billion Education Budget. Unlike past years of piecing together a hardscrabble budget, this year our state had adequate money to provide for the needs of our school children. With this budget, we improved funding in several critical areas, while ensuring the economic safety of our schools in the future.

First and foremost, the budget dramatically increases the amount of money spent on learning programs. With a $16 million increase in the Alabama Reading Initiative and a $7 million increase in spending for Math and Science, the budget will improve the way our teachers teach and the way our children learn. And improving teaching and learning is what schools are all about.

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Our schools cannot function without adequate infrastructure, and this year’s budget helps increase funding to several of the areas that are vital to Alabama’s public schools. The budget increases funding for school transportation by $55 million. The budget also increases funding by $200 per library and technology funding by $350 per classroom, and school supplies funding by $100 per teacher.

The budget also funds several other areas of our schools that need improvement. The budget helps ensure that while at school, our children’s health is properly cared for by increasing funding for school nurses by $20 million. Also, the budget helps those students with special needs by adding 180 special education teachers.

Physical activity is necessary in order to reduce the amount of overweight children in Alabama. The budget will enable schools to combat this problem by adding 180 physical education teachers.

Teachers are the backbone of our schools, and in order to keep good teachers in our state, we must ensure that they are adequately compensated. With this budget, teachers will receive a much-needed pay raise of five percent. But the raise doesn’t end with teachers; education support staff, such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers, will also receive an increase in pay.

Since 2000, inflation has increased by 16% while education salaries have only increased by 12%. Everything from gas to milk has increased in price and our teachers and staff have been unable to keep up. This budget helps ensure that our education workers are at least in line with the cost of living.

The Education Budget also puts money aside for a rainy day. From 2000 to 2003, many of our schools were either in proration or had zero percent growth. Alabamians know what it’s like to see our schools suffer because tax revenues have faltered, and we do not want to see it happen again. With this budget, we were able to put enough money aside to ensure that our state will be able to weather future economic storms without mortgaging our children’s futures.

Finally, the House approved a bill that adds five more days to school year. Our sister states such as Georgia,Mississippi,Tennessee, and Florida all have 180-day school years, while Alabama had only 175. Yet,Alabama’s students take the same tests and will be expected to compete for the same jobs as the children from those states. This budget allows our schools to keep their doors open for five more days a year, and puts our children on par with the rest of the nation.

With the largest education budget in the history of our state, the future of Alabama’s schools looks brighter than ever, but the work isn’t over yet. The bill must still pass the Senate and be signed into law by the governor. I encourage everyone to voice your support for the Education Budget; I know I will. Together, we must make sure that that our children receive the best education possible and that our schools are top-notch, no matter what tomorrow’s economy will bring.