MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama lawmakers on Tuesday approved a 4% pay increase for teachers and other public school employees, inching the starting salary for an educator above $40,000.
The House of Representatives voted 103-0 to give final approval to the pay raise bill. The measure now goes to Gov. Kay Ivey who is expected to sign the bill. Ivey called for the raise in her State of the State speech in March.
The increase would take starting pay for a teacher with a bachelor's degree to $40,873.
House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Poole said competitive pay is one piece of the solution to try to address a teacher shortage in the state. "We have a recruitment and retention challenge in Alabama. It's not unique to Alabama. It's a trend across the country," Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, said.
The pay raise is part of a record proposed $7 billion education spending plan for the next fiscal year.
The education trust fund budget, which is fueled by sales and income taxes, has finally rebounded past pre-recession levels of 2008.
The proposed $7 billion education trust fund budget would be the largest in state history, although it still lags 2008 levels when adjusted for inflation.
"That's just a reality of the economic downturn that was experienced across the country," Poole said.
Adam Keller with the Huntsville Education Association says the pay increase will help recruit and retain teachers.
"We are very happy to see the starting salary is now above forty thousand dollars. That's a huge signal to class room teachers that this is a profession they can choose and they can stick with," says Keller.
Keller says education salaries in Alabama have not kept up with the cost of living over the last ten years.
"We do have a lot of catching up to do. Alabama had some of the deepest cuts after the great recessions so we are still trying to catch up to where we were a decade ago," says Keller.
He says the four percent pay increase is a step in the right direction but the fight to have a better education system is not over yet.
"We still have a long way to go. Truly we need to invest in public education and that includes salaries, additional resources for our students at risk. we have to keep working at improving our public education system," says Keller.
The House of Representatives on Tuesday voted 99-0 for the education trust fund budget. The budget provides an additional $27 million for the state's voluntary prekindergarten as well as money to reduce classroom size in grades four through six.
The spending plan is expected to go to a conference committee to work out differences between the House and Alabama Senate.
One of the sticking points is how to fund the state's share of costs for the Children's Health Insurance Program which provides subsidized health insurance for children in working families.
There has been disagreement over how the expense should be shared between the state's two budgets, the education trust fund which pays for education prisons and the general fund which pays for state services such as Medicaid and prisons.
While House members approved the budget and pay raise without a dissenting vote, both had criticisms during debate on the House floor.
Democratic Rep. Juandalynn Givan of Birmingham said teachers deserve a larger raise. Other lawmakers said the state should provide an increase for education retirees.
THIS IS A STATE PAY RAISE AND WILL APPLY TO ALL PUBLIC SCHOOL EMPLOYEES.
BUT LOCAL SCHOOL DISTRICTS THAT EMPLOY EXTRA EDUCATORS WILL HAVE TO FUND THE RAISES THAT THE STATE DOESNT COVER.