Gov. Kay Ivey submitted her budget proposals to the Legislature Wednesday, asking for modest pay raises for teachers, school support staff and state workers, along with targeted funding increases for several programs, including the state’s troubled prison system.
Ivey’s proposed Education Trust Fund for fiscal year 2022 totals $7.65 billion, an increase of more than $440 million from the current fiscal year. Her General Fund budget totals $2.45 billion, which is a decrease of $31 million from the current year’s budget.
Both budgets are based on state tax revenue projections, which state finance officials are cautiously optimistic about at the moment. Both budgets also have mechanisms that direct excess revenue to “rainy day” accounts to prevent future budget cuts known as proration.
During a briefing with reporters, state Finance Director Kelly Butler said the proposed education budget comes in at $100 million below this year’s statutory cap, meaning the administration is budgeting conservatively.
“Our revenue estimates do not support spending up to the cap,” Butler said, “but it’s still a substantial increase over the current year budget,” Butler said.
As promised, Ivey is proposing a 2% pay raise for education and state employees. The educators’ raises will cost the state $90 million, while the state employees’ raises will cost $13.6 million, Butler said. Teachers will also see an increase in their annual school supply funds from $600 to $1,000.
Among Ivey’s education budget priorities are expanding the state’s award-winning pre-K program, investing in career and technical education, enhancing STEM opportunities, improving literacy and offering more resources for high needs and special education.
The Department of Early Childhood Education, which administers the First Class Pre-K program, would see a $29 million increase in Ivey’s budget, allowing for an additional 207 classrooms throughout the state.
The state’s reading programs would get a $20 million increase to help schools meet new, higher reading standards enacted in the Alabama Literacy Act. That would bring the total reading education funding to $98 million, approaching the highest-ever state investment in literacy.
The state’s high needs and special education grant program would see a $15 million increase and pre-school special education would get an additional $12 million.
Ivey’s budget calls for increasing the career and technical initiative by $11 million to total almost $16 million. In her State of the State speech, Ivey called for a greater focus on education in the STEM fields, or Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Her budget funds the state’s Math, Science and Technology Initiative at $31.2 million and includes more than $2.4 million in other STEM-related programs at other departments and institutions.
Increases for higher education
The state’s community colleges would receive a $40 million increase, a more than 9% bump, much of which would be spent on operations and maintenance. Higher education would see a $86 million increase spread out among the state’s colleges and universities, which amounts to a 6% increase over the current fiscal year.
UAB would see an $18.9 million increase over current year funding, all of which is earmarked for operations and maintenance.
Increases for other colleges include the University of Alabama, $13.5 million; UAH, $3.9 million; and Auburn, $14.1 million, plus $2.1 million for the Agriculture Experiment Station and $2.2 million for the Cooperative Extension Service.
In the General Fund, one of the most significant increases Ivey seeks is a $27 million plus up for the Department of Corrections, most of which will be directed toward improving health care, including mental health care, in state prisons. Last year, federal judge Myron Thompson ruled that the medical health care in Alabama prisons was “horribly inadequate” and ordered the state to make marked improvements.
The Department of Mental Health would see an $8 million increase in Ivey’s budget, much of which would go toward establishing another crisis diversion center. The state is in the process of opening three crisis diversion centers in Mobile, Montgomery and Huntsville.
“As you recall, there were three centers funded in the 2021 budget,” Butler said. “The governor’s budget proposes a fourth diversion center to be located in (the Birmingham-Tuscaloosa region) at a cost of about $6 million,” Butler said.
The General Fund got a break this year as federal matching dollars for the state Medicaid program and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, were higher than usual. That means while actual funding won’t decrease, the state will spend $51 million less on Medicaid and $12 million less on CHIP.