April 22, 2009

State of Alabama
Press Release: Lt. Governor Folsom (2007-11)

Senate passes job-saving education budget

Ala. Senate passes job-saving education budget

April 22, 2009 7:41 AM ET

Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - State officials who faced budget nightmares in January are now working instead on budgets for next year that are larger than this year's and avoid state employee layoffs, thanks to federal stimulus funding.

Without the stimulus funding approved by Congress in February the education budget for the 2009-2010 school year would have been "my worst nightmare," state Superintendent of Education Joe Morton said Tuesday.

The Alabama Senate voted 32-0 Tuesday night for a $6.3 billion education budget for the 2009-2010 school year. The budget is up $418 million, or 7 percent, from this year's prorated spending level. The budget includes $513 million in federal stimulus funds.

The budget now goes to the House for consideration.

The House spent Tuesday debating a $2.5 billion General Fund budget for non-education agencies in fiscal 2010. It is up $579 million, or 29 percent, from the nearly $2 billion being spent this fiscal year. But the proposed budget includes $1 billion of the federal stimulus money, including transportation and weatherization funding.

"I am delighted we have these funds because otherwise I would have to describe the cuts that we would have to make as draconian," House Speaker Seth Hammett, D-Andalusia.

Debate on the General Fund budget stalled because of a dispute between Democratic leaders and Republican Gov. Bob Riley over how much money to place in an emergency fund that could be spent at the discretion of the governor. General Fund budget committee chairman John Knight, D-Montgomery, said discussions were under way to resolve the dispute before the House resumes debate on the budget Thursday. Once approved by the House, the budget will go to the Senate for consideration.

The General Fund budget would maintain the state government work force. It would also fully fund a health insurance program for children whose families make less than 200 percent of the poverty level and provide money to set up a statewide communications system for law enforcement agencies.

Legislators convened for budget hearings in January, when the federal stimulus package was still a dream. At the time, state fiscal experts warned them to expect big reductions in both budgets, and legislative budget leaders worried about huge layoffs and dramatic reductions in services.

Legislators delayed work on the two state budgets much longer than normal so they could get details of the funding available to Alabama through the stimulus package. State officials also decided to use part of the stimulus money in the 2010 budgets and save part for the 2011 budgets.

The Senate debated an education budget that Morton said should protect all teaching and support jobs, except in city and county school systems that are losing enrollment. Those systems will lose jobs because state funding amounts depend on enrollment.

The budget maintains funding for the Alabama Reading Initiative, but reduces funding for distance learning programs and the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiatives. Even with the cuts, all schools should be able to maintain the status quo, Morton said.

"Overall it is a budget we can live with. It is a budget that will save critical jobs and keep programs that serve the students and improve student achievement," he said.

The budget, while increasing spending 7 percent, is still smaller than the state's all-time record education budget of $6.7 billion in fiscal 2008, Senate budget committee Chairman Hank Sanders, D-Selma, said.

Associated Press Writer Bob Johnson contributed to this report.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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