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Legislature session ends with passage of budgets, school board amendment

The legislative session has ended after both houses agreed on the general fund and education trust fund budgets, as well as several other bills Friday.

The $2.2 billion general fund budget includes an 8 percent raise for the state’s struggling prison system and more funding for State Troopers.

“From areas of public safety to mental health, our state is making great strides,” Gov. Kay Ivey said in a statement. “I am very proud that this year’s budget returns $35 million to our Road and Bridge Fund.”

Rep. Wes Allen, R-Pike, said the budget meets the conservative values of his constituents in District 89.

“It’s a fiscally sound budget,” Allen said. “Chairman Clouse and Chairman Albritton did a great job shepherding it through the House and Senate. I believe it meets the needs of state agencies.”

The Education Trust Fund passed out of committee Friday afternoon as the largest in history at $7.1 billion.

“It includes raises for our educators as well as an increase in resources for our schools and classrooms,” Allen said. “No budget is perfect, but this is one of the best we’ve had in years.”

The budget steers an additional $26.8 million to the state’s prekindergarten program. It will also add about 250 teachers in grades four through six as part of an effort to reduce classroom sizes.

In addition to the budgets, the House of Representatives voted 78-21 Friday for the proposed constitutional amendment that will go before voters next year. Ivey and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh championed the effort. Alabama is one of only a handful of states that have an elected school board.

“Our current system is simply not working. Statistics prove that. However, through this bold change, I am confident that Alabama will have a system that will work more effectively for our students and educators,” Ivey said in a statement.

Supporters of the measure cited the state’s historically low standardized test scores as evidence of the need for a change. Opposed lawmakers questioned exactly how an appointed board would accomplish that, and said other factors, such as education funding, were responsible.

The proposed new nine-member Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education would consist of members — including one from each congressional district — appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. The commission would appoint a state education secretary who would replace the state superintendent. The position would also have to be confirmed by the Senate.

The legislation says the governor “shall ensure” that the commission membership reflects the geographical, gender, and racial diversity of the public school enrollment. Members would serve six-year staggered terms.

Republican Rep. Bill Poole, who shepherded the bill in the House, said the goal is have education experts crafting the state’s education policies and making decisions related to K-12 schools.

The proposal would also potentially enable Ivey, who would make all of the initial appointments, to place a large stamp on education policy along with the Republican-dominated Alabama Senate who would confirm the appointments.

Poole argued the goal is to shift away from politics that come with elections.

The legislation also includes a directive for the new commission to set new study standards “in lieu of Common Core” curriculum standards.

Poole said it will be the commission’s decision to determine those. He said they could choose to keep the state’s current standards, which are derived from Common Core.

The Common Core standards are math and English benchmarks adopted by more than 40 states to describe what students should know after completing each grade. The standards were developed by the National Governors Association but became a frequent target of Republicans after the Obama administration pushed states to adopt them.

Alabamians will vote on the proposal on March 3, 2020, the same day as the presidential and U.S. Senate primaries.­