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House passes 4 percent pay raise for teachers

Alabama lawmakers on Tuesday approved a 4 percent 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.

Dr. Lee Hicks, superintendent of Troy City Schools, said increased pay for teachers is always much-needed.

“It shows the importance of what impact our teachers have on our students’ lives,” Hicks said. “I appreciate the State for showing appreciation to them. I’d love more for our teachers; they’re grossly underpaid and they’ve chosen a profession that gives to the future.”

Dr. Mark Bazzell, superintendent of Pike County Schools, said Alabama teachers have been “playing catch up” after going years without raises. “Our teachers are certainly deserving of the increase,” Bazzell said.

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.

Bazzell said raising the salary to compete with other states will certainly make it easier for schools to hire in the state.

“When the state salary matrix for teachers is adjusted so that it can become more in line with what other states are paying, it makes it a little bit easier and more competitive with surrounding states,” Bazzell 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.

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.