ETF budget a win; strife may not be over

Published 11:05 pm Friday, April 29, 2016

We’ve documented — many times — the issues with Alabama’s General Fund budget.

It’s in place for the next fiscal year after the Legislature overrode Gov. Robert Bentley’s veto, although the governor is threatening to call a special session to deal with Medicaid funding.

So there’s the possibility of more strife, in between the latest revelations in the scandal surrounding Bentley. (We’re not going there again, except for a grimace and head shake at the governor’s choice of date for a White House banquet in February.).

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However, it’s only fair that we acknowledge a rare peaceful moment in Montgomery — the unanimous approval of an Education Trust Fund budget that is going to benefit the state’s public schools, and the near-unanimous passage of a bill helping the personnel who make them function.

The $6.3 billion ETF budget is the largest since 2008. It will fund nearly 500 additional classrooms in grades 7 through 12, and provide more money for both the Foundation Program (which covers basic operations in the state’s public schools) and technology spending.

It also will increase prekindergarten funding by a third, which paired with federal grant money should put about 2,800 more Alabama children into Pre-K classrooms. Again, we know some folks dismiss this as taxpayer-funded day care, but the reality is that it’s never too early to get kids started on the path to their niche in a 21st century world that’s changing way too fast.

The budget legislation was accompanied by a bill (which received only one dissenting vote, in the Senate) granting pay raises for K-12 employees (4 percent for those earning less than $75,000 a year, 2 percent for everyone else), principals and assistant principals (4 percent) and community college employees (4 percent).

It’s only the second cost-of-living raise for education personnel in the last decade (and the one in 2013 was negated by increased benefit costs). Terminal bean counters and those who carry grudges from their own school days may disagree, but we think it’s deserved. Teachers suffered during the economic down times — and in the clashes between Republican legislators and the Alabama Education Association — and should benefit now that things have improved.

We wish there were some coins in the pile for non-education state employees, who work hard and serve the public in different but just as important ways. That’s going to take getting the General Fund in order. That’s going to take getting a handle on Medicaid, while convincing folks that things have been cut about to the marrow, and that new revenue is needed whether it comes from a three-letter curse word (at least in Alabama) that starts with “t” or from letting people ignore the massive odds against getting rich and play with silly machines or paper tickets outside tribal boundaries.

It appears those currently occupying the State House have as much chance of pulling that off as they do making gold through alchemy, or creating a perpetual motion machine.

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