Senate OKs budget with teacher cuts

Published 7:36 pm Wednesday, April 27, 2011

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Legislature is close to making it official that Alabama’s public schools will have 1,125 fewer teachers next year.

The Senate Finance and Taxation-Education Committee voted unanimously Wednesday for a $5.6 billion education budget that would cut the teachers for the 2011-2012 school year. The budget now goes to the Senate for debate Thursday.

It is very similar to the version of the budget passed earlier by the House, which also cut 1,125 jobs. The reduction represents about 2 percent of Alabama’s classroom teachers.

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Paul Hubbert, executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association, said such a reduction would result in more students in classes. He said the Legislature should increase tax collections by closing tax loopholes rather than cutting teaching positions.

The committee’s chairman, Republican Trip Pittman of Daphne, said the cuts can be handled through attrition because about 2,000 teachers leave each year, and the $72 million saved on teacher costs will allow the Legislature to increase money for school operating expenses, including utilities and buses.

The Senate committee’s $5.6 billion budget is $241 million, or 4.5 percent, bigger than this year’s budget.

It does not provide a pay raise for teachers, who received their last cost-of-living increase in October 2007, and it’s based on teachers paying more for their retirement benefits. But it keeps the school year at 180 days for students, plus seven days for teachers to be at school.

It maintains the Alabama Reading Initiative and the state’s distance learning program that allows students in one location to take video classes from a teacher in another location.

The budget increases funding for four-year colleges next year, but provides less to two-year colleges.

That drew complaints from two-year college Chancellor Freida Hill.

“I’m just asking you to be fair,” she told the committee.

If the Senate approves the budget Thursday, then a legislative committee will have to work out differences between the Senate and House.

The state’s other budget, the General Fund budget for non-education agencies, has passed the House and Senate in slightly different forms. Legislative leaders said Wednesday they hope to agree on both budgets next week.