Alabama's nearly $6B education budget nears final approval

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama's nearly $6 billion education budget cleared a series of hurdles Thursday and is now nearing final approval.

The budget received broad bipartisan support, passing unanimously in the House in the morning and later in the Senate after a conference committee made minor revisions.

The budget would increase the state's pre-kindergarten program by $10 million. It would also provide another $13 million for textbooks.

The budget would increase the school transportation program by $4.5 million and increase funding for Advanced Placement courses by $1 million.

Other funding increases for 2016 include $3 million for classroom supplies, $3 million for professional development, $1 million for school library enhancements and $3 million for classroom technology.

House education budget committee chair Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, said the revised budget is "very consistent" with the version the House passed in the morning.

Poole said the budget still focuses on putting dollars in the classrooms.

"We haven't reduced any of those dollars," he said. "And in fact we tried to enhance potentially some revenue or some appropriations on the K-12 classrooms and other areas. Some of that will be conditional though, dependent on whether revenue is there to support some of those additional appropriations that weren't in the original House bill."

Now that the Senate approved the revised budget, it will go back to the House.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said he expects revisions will be approved by the House next week.

"It was not a problem," Marsh said of passing the education budget. "Both committee chairs put a lot of work into it. It was a good budget. Obviously, on the education side, we don't have the problems we have in the general fund, but we're glad to have the budget out."

A number of House Democrats and Republicans commended Bill Poole, the education budget chairman, on an unusually smooth spending plan.

House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said he doesn't recall the state education budget ever being passed unanimously or so easily.

"I really think it's a testament to the job that Chairman Poole and his committee have done," he said.

Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, said he was pleased with the House education budget.

"I think we did probably the best that we could with the resources available," Knight said. "Do you like everything in the budget? No. I don't think there's a budget that you ever pass where everyone is going to be satisfied."

Amy Marlowe, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Education Association, said the budget was a "good first step."

"We got important funding back into the classroom via technology, library enhancement, increased funding for textbooks and classroom supplies," she said. "Some of those line items had not received any money since 2008, so we thought it was very important that we get that money back into the classroom to better serve the students of the state."

Marlowe said it was disappointing that the 2016 budget will be the eighth year in a row teachers won't receive an increase in take-home pay.

"That's why I said it wasn't a perfect budget," she said. "But it was a good first step for us to continue to build, get some changes made to that rolling reserve and free up significant dollars next year so that the legislature can really look at giving education employees a pay raise."

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