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Alabama lawmakers look to give math, science teachers more money in 2022 budget

By Mary Sell, Alabama Daily News

The state’s proposed 2022 education budget will likely get its first committee vote today.

Senate education budget committee chairman Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, told Alabama Daily News on Monday that there are some significant changes expected, including about $100 million more for math and science teachers who participate in a new salary schedule program.

“We’re being more strategic in our compensation conversations,” Orr said.

He said the Alabama State Department of Education came to him and Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa, Orr’s House counterpart, about three weeks ago with a pay raise proposal.

“We have a problem in education recruiting and retaining math and science teachers,” Orr said.

The increase for math, science and computer science middle and high school educators is laid out in Sen. Donnie Chasteen’s Senate Bill 327, which is also in committee today and will travel with the budget.

The bill includes additional raises for those who agree to teach in hard-to-fill locations, including rural and high-poverty school systems.

“All in, an educator with a qualifying degree in a rural setting could find themselves getting an extra $15,000 a year,” Orr said.

Another change in the proposed budget is increased step raises, those increases built into educators’ salary structures.

Orr said some of the current step raises “are ridiculously low.”  The budget proposal would make them all a minimum of 2%.

National surveys have shown that Alabama’s pay for young teachers is comparable or even better to surrounding states, but it lags when they get farther in their careers.

“Our goal is to move these middle years where educators many times go look for something else to do because they don’t see a whole lot of potential for a wage increase unless the Legislature doesn’t across the board, but this will be targeted towards classroom teachers getting these increases in step pay payments,” Orr said. “And hopefully will retain educators in the years ahead, so we’re making our first step. And then, the goal is to move those each step raise maybe a quarter percent, half a percent in the coming years each year to get those all up, where they need to be.”

The increases will cost about $30 million.

Today’s discussions will likely include the newest round of federal relief money coming to Alabama’s education institutions. The Montgomery Advertiser reported this week that the American Rescue Plan Act  is expected to mean about $2 billion for K-12 education in the state..

“This one single deal is the largest influx of federal money into our schools, ever,” state superintendent Eric Mackey said.

“We’re trying to account for the federal dollars that are coming to the state and we’re trying not to double spend where we know federal dollars are coming,” Orr said.

For example, there will be federal money for summer programs to help address Covid-caused learning loss in the last year.

“That’s how we’ve been able to spend some of the money that we have making some of these significant compensation moves,” Orr said.

Gov. Kay Ivey’s proposed budget already included a 2% raise for educators. The $7.65 billion fiscal year 2022 budget showed a total increase of $440.8 million from the 2021 budget.

Ivey is proposing an increase of $309.9 million for K-12 schools, a $115.9 million increase for higher education and $14.9 million for other related increases.

Senate President Pro Tem Greg Reed, R-Jasper, said last week he expected the education budget to be voted on in the Senate Thursday before lawmakers leave for a week-long spring break.

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