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Education budget has more funds for UNA

Education budget has more funds for UNA
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MONTGOMERY — The proposed $6.6 billion 2019 state education budget includes about $1.7 million in additional money for the University of North Alabama, and $750,000 to rebuild a tornado-damaged school building in Franklin County.

The budget, which cleared the Senate last week and is expected to be concurred with in the House early this week, includes a 2.5 percent pay raise for K-12 and community college staff.

The raise will cost the state about $100 million.

On the Senate floor Thursday, Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said Alabama loses teachers to other states who pay more.

Calhoun Community College President James Klauber said Friday the raises are certainly needed. He said pay for administrative employees is not competitive.

“We lose employees all the time to public schools, to Decatur Utilities,” he said. “I lost a computer guy to Morgan County this year. We’re losing employees to other government agencies, not the private sector.”

The 2019 budget is about $216 million larger than the current year’s budget.

State education budgets don’t often include line items for specific K-12 schools, but this one includes $750,000 in one-time money for Vina High School. The money would be used to replace the band and science building badly damaged in a December 2016 tornado.

“There’s been a back and forth fight over whether the building could be repaired or replaced,” Sen. Larry Stutts, R-Tuscumbia, said. Insurers said the building could be repaired, engineers deemed it structurally unsafe.

In the House, $300,000 was put in the budget to help replace the building. In the Senate, that amount was increased by $450,000.

The House will have to vote this week to concur with that and other Senate-made changes. Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, D-Red Bay, said the building is desperately needed.

“I would like to thank the members of Senate and House committees for seeing the need and responding with a special line item in the budget,” Morrow said. “The people of Vina are very appreciative; I’m very appreciative.”

About UNA’s $1.73 million increase in funding, Stutts said it’s a start.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but they’re still underfunded,” he said.

Stutts said he is going to continue pushing for performance-based budgeting in higher education. Funding schools based on factors such as the number of graduates they produce instead of just student body size would mean more money for UNA, Stutts has said.

Besides the $1.73 million line item, Stutts said there’s $464,000 for UNA in a technology appropriation, bringing the school’s funding increase in 2019 to almost $2.2 million.

The budget, the largest since 2008, also includes;

• An $18.5 million increase to expand the state’s voluntary pre-K program to 120 additional classrooms. It’s currently available in about 940 classrooms.

• A $1.1 million increase for K-12 career tech programs.

• $6 million more for K-12 transportation; $11 million more for textbooks; and $4 million more for technology in classrooms.

Lawmakers approved letting school leaders use money from a technology fund to fund school security measures.

Earlier in the session, the budget passed the House 102-0. It cleared the Senate Thursday 29-0.

Athens State University will receive about $13 million, an $618,520 increase.

“I think everyone is pleased that the budget looks a whole lot better than it did a year ago,” Rick Mould, the school’s government relations consultant, said Friday. “Hopefully, that trend will continue at least in the next few years.”

Looking farther into the future, Orr, the Senate education budget committee chairman, said Friday early projections indicate more money in 2020 for things like K-12 libraries, technology, counselors and additional teachers to shrink classroom sizes.

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