By MARY SELL and CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Across the state, there are about 7,500 positions for math and science teachers in public schools. Currently, about 4,600 are filled with credentialed educators, Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said Tuesday.
In an effort to attract and retain more math and science teachers, Orr and other lawmakers are proposing spending about $100 million on a new program to boost qualifying teachers’ pay. The proposal is part of the $7.67 billion 2022 education budget approved in the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee on Tuesday.
“We’re being more strategic in our compensation conversations,” Orr told Alabama Daily News. He chairs the committee.
The proposed spending plan for K-12, community colleges and four-year universities is slightly more than Gov. Kay Ivey’s February proposal and includes the 2% raises she proposed for educators and support staff. That is estimated to cost the state about $80 million.
Separately, lawmakers are proposing an increase in some of the 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%. That will cost about $30 million.
National surveys have shown that Alabama’s pay for young teachers is comparable to or even better than surrounding states, but it lags when they get further 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.”
Orr told the committee that between the three increases, a lot of money is being spent to attract and retain qualified educators.
The 2% cost-of-living increase also applies to support personnel. Sens. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, and Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, asked if there was anything else available to them.
“Moving forward, I’d like to do something for support personnel,” Smitherman said.
State Superintendent Eric Mackey was at the committee meeting to speak about the need for more math and science teachers. He said he recently talked to a superintendent who hadn’t had anyone apply for a math teaching spot for two years. It’s a common situation, he said.
The funding increase for math, science and computer science middle and high school educators is laid out in Sen. Donnie Chasteen’s Senate Bill 327, which was also approved by the committee and will travel through the legislative process 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.
Orr said that in the new program, a teacher working in a rural system could earn $15,000 more than he or she otherwise would.
In all, the committee-approved budget is $455 million more than current year spending.
- About $41 million, or 10% more for the Alabama Community College System;
- A nearly $30 million increase for Early Childhood Development, which includes the state’s pre-K program;
- About $255 million more for local schools.
The Senate-approved budget also made a few cuts to what Ivey had suggested, including about $18 million in funding from the Alabama Literacy Act, aimed to improve reading skills in young students.
Orr said the cut was justified because new federal money from the American Relief Plan Act would be paying for summer-school activities and addressing some of the learning loss caused by COVID-19.
“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 told ADN.
“… 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.
“I think we were able to do more selective targeting like for helping to get more STEM teachers in the long run,” committee member Sen. Tim Melson, R-Florence, said. “Everybody in the school system is obviously very important, whether it’s the school janitors, the bus driver, the teacher, principal or whoever, it’s a machine that runs together but this helps target those who are harder to recruit and hopefully get them and I think it’s a step in the right direction.”
“We’ve been trying to target where we need to spend this money to get more educators of certain types to get in there and we’ve had a real problem in the past where we have lost educators to industry,” Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, said.
“People in the science and math areas have been hired out to industry because they have been paid better, so what we’re doing right here is targeting that issue and trying to pay them more.”
Sen. Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, said it’s a positive budget.
“I think overall the educators will like it because there are some raises in there for math and science teachers, that’s probably the biggest item we left here today with, trying to attract math and science teachers because we’re losing them,” Waggoner said. “Nobody is majoring in it and we’re giving them some incentive as far as the salary matrix.”
The budget is expected to be voted on in the Senate Thursday before lawmakers go on a one-week spring break. The budget would then move to the House.
See the full spreadsheet comparing the budget proposals below.