The 2018 session of the state Legislature ended on March 29th, and it was a productive one for the people of Alabama.
The state Legislature, under the leadership of conservative Republicans, continued to stand strong for our students, teachers, and schools. The $6.6 billion education budget – the largest education budget since the Great Recession of 2008 – includes a 2.5% pay raise for teachers and support personnel. While there are many factors that contribute to a quality education, a smart, driven teacher is essential, and I’m glad we could reward our teachers with a raise.
The Fiscal Year 2019 education budget includes an additional $18.5 million for First Class, Alabama’s nationally-renowned Pre-kindergarten program. First Class, which is currently available in 941 classrooms, has been named the best Pre-kindergarten program in the nation for eleven years in a row by the National Institute for Early Education Research. The $18.5 million increase will fund approximately 120 new Pre-k classrooms.
This is a fiscally-responsible education budget that gives local school districts predictability and allows them to plan for the entire year. Unfortunately, that kind of predictability isn’t a given. Between 2001 and 2011, proration occurred six times, due to the Legislature approving state budgets that promised the moon, but then fell short as tax revenues failed to meet legislators’ wildly irresponsible projections. Each time, proration forced local school districts to scramble and cut their budgets in the middle of the school year. Under Republican leadership, proration hasn’t happened once since 2011.
The education budget includes a $1.1 million uptick for career tech, a $6 million increase for K-12 transportation, boosts spending on textbooks by $11 million, and sets aside funds for a new robotics program for middle and high school students.
While each of these items is a worthy investment in our students, nothing is more important than keeping our students safe. That’s why I supported a proposal that allows local school districts to use money from the state Advancement and Technology Fund to hire additional security guards and install more metal detectors at school entrances.
Let me say a quick word, too, on the issue of guns and school safety: attacking the Second Amendment rights of peaceful people isn’t how we make schools safer. Let’s focus on solutions that work. We should make it harder for mentally-unstable people to buy and own guns, we need to hire additional armed school security guards, and we must empower local schools to pursue ideas that work best for them.
I am excited to report that the Legislature passed a tax cut for lower and middle-income earners by increasing the income threshold for Alabamians who can claim the maximum exemption from state income taxes. Alabama’s working families will collectively save $40 million over the next ten years due to the Legislature’s tax cut. Coupled with President Trump’s tax break, Alabama families are finally getting real tax relief.
Three other noteworthy items from the session: first, the Legislature increased the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s budget by $3 million, in order to fund the hiring of 30 additional state troopers. Public safety is an essential role of state government, and more troopers are certainly needed. Second, thanks to a bill passed late in the session, the University of Alabama at Birmingham has the go-ahead to establish a Rural Hospital Resource Center, which will give our rural hospitals access to UAB’s world-class physicians and researchers. Third, I was glad to vote for the Parks for Patriots Act, which gives active and retired military members free access to all of Alabama’s twenty-two state parks.
Finally, I was privileged to sponsor several bills that became law, including one that requires home builders to inform home owners if the builder has liability insurance or not, before any construction begins. I also sponsored a bill that gives county superintendents the right to pursue additional employment outside of their jobs in education, if their contracts allow that. This measure levels the playing field between county and city superintendents, who already have the right of additional employment.
It is a privilege to represent you in the State Senate. Please give my Senate office a call at 334-242-7085 if you have a question about a specific bill from the 2018 session.
Senator Tim Melson represents District One in the Alabama Senate, which is comprised of all or parts of Madison, Limestone, and Lauderdale counties. He is a retired anesthesiologist and deeply involved in community service.