(WHNT) - The Alabama legislature is done for year. The regular session ending with a bit of fireworks over a pay raise for teachers the governor wanted, but didn't get.
District 25 representative Mac McCutcheon shared some thoughts on that pay raise in this week's Leadership Perspectives interview.
*Editor’s Note: This interview was done shortly before the governor decided not to call a special session of the legislature to address the teacher pay raise. He signed the budget as-is Friday.
"I think it was a productive session,” McCutcheon said. “The major issues we had was, of course, the budget. The education trust fund and the general fund budget. In those two budgets, of course, we had to look at the amount of revenue. And the general fund is always short of revenue and we also had to look at education from the standpoint of trying to balance out educators who have had to make sacrifices these past several years.”
The teacher’s pay raise was only one of several political issues came up during this legislative session.
“The accountability act that we passed last year with the flexibility part, I think that became an issue for us to deal with, when we talk about scholarships for children who are wanting a better education and they're living in one of those districts where we have failing schools. There was some real pushback when we worked on that accountability bill in last session. So that became an issue. There's always issues dealing with moral things such as abortion, second amendment rights dealing with guns. All of those things become a hot button issue during a campaign year," said McCutcheon.
When Steve Johnson interviewed McCutcheon, Governor Bentley, who championed a pay raise for teachers, had not signed the budget passed by both houses. There was a chance the he could not sign it and call a special session to address a budget with a two percent pay raise for teachers.
But, according to McCutcheon, there were three different armies trying to win the budget war: the house, the senate, and the governor.
“When we looked at the budget from the house perspective, it was totally different from the Senate. So, you've got three different trains of thought if you will on how we should spend the money in the education budget. As far as whether we should have a special session, I hate to spend us spend close to $500,000 for the taxpayers of Alabama to have to pay for, when I feel like we could work through this,” McCutcheon said.
“The House took the position on the education budget to say, the P-Hip insurance program, health insurance program for educators, that cost has continued to rise every year, and we're looking at an enormous amount of money in the short fall in keeping that program going for our educators and people involved in education, and what we were trying to do is protect the insurance benefit package for teachers. Now have they had to come out of their pocket for some things? Sure they have. They’ve had to pay more for their retirement, because their retirement system was in bad shape,” he added.
One hot button issue that was not addressed this legislative session – Common Core Standards.
"From the House perspective, me personally, I didn't want to address the Common Core issue in the House. I think there is a lot of information going on. Should I say surrounding the Common Core issue. And I've been reading and studying about it for the last few years, trying to stay in the middle and listen to the facts. But I feel like there's a lot of information out there that is just not factual. When you talk to educators in this state, by far, superintendents, board of education, teachers, and teachers I have a lot of respect and trust for. I went to teachers and talked to them personally, local educators and they are in favor of Common Core. I've looked at our school systems and how they select the material that's taught to the children, and I don't see any problem with that. So, honestly I'm glad we didn't get that bill in the house. I'm glad that it didn't come up and when we look at trying to educate our children, and when we look at business and trying to train future business leaders, the people who go into the work force. The business community supports the Common Core Standards. So no, I'm for Common Core at this point," McCutcheon said.
That issue – Common Core Standards – has caused some infighting among republicans, recently. That fact distresses McCutcheon.
“Some of the debate that bothers me has been fueled by fear. By fear of Washington. By fear of the administration in Washington. And you don't need to make decisions based on fear. You need to make decisions based on good facts, and in this particular situation, what's best for the children, and educating a future work force. And when I look at the experts who are far more knowledgeable about the work force that we need in the next 15-to-20 years, they say the path we're on, teaching our children under the common core standards is a good path to follow," he said.
A final thought from McCutcheon, “You've got to remember this is an election year, and anytime you have a session during an election year there's always political issues that try to creep their way into the business of the state.”