Riley signs education budget
Gov. Bob Riley signed the $6.2 billion state education budget on Monday, saying it will avoid laying off teachers and help sustain learning initiatives.
In a statement, the governor said he was pleased the final version includes: $42 million for the Alabama Reading Initiative; $29 million for the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative; $20 million for ACCESS Distance Learning; and $19 million for First Class Pre-K.
"For the first time, we are beginning to have an understanding in the Legislature that these programs are setting Alabama apart," he said.
Joe Morton, state superintendent of schools, said the funding would maintain programs and progress.
"We are delighted with the budget that the governor signed," he said. "It keeps our programs active and keeps them in our schools. We've had great results from the Alabama Reading Initiative, our distance learning initiative and the Math and Science and Technology Initiative. Even in these very bleak economic times, those initiatives are funded at a level that we can sustain learning in all of our schools."
Riley, in his statement, thanked Democratic state Sen. Hank Sanders of Selma, who is chairman of the Senate education budget committee, "for his efforts to keep funding for Alabama’s learning initiatives in the budget throughout the sometimes complicated budgeting process in the Legislature."
"When it came down to it, he was under a tremendous amount of pressure to cut these programs, but I think he understands probably more than anybody in the Senate how much this has done for rural Alabama schools," he said. "I want to thank him for standing up to the political opposition that he faced."
The budget does cuts millions for textbooks and all direct funding for supplies.
Sanders, other lawmakers and Paul Hubbert, head of the Alabama Education Association, said the state would have had to make deep cuts including cutting thousands of jobs if the federal government had not propped up the budget with the federal stimulus money.
Riley's office noted that the education budget is $2 billion larger than the $4.2 billion budget the Legislature passed in the 2003 fiscal year, when Riley came into office.
Lawmakers had to be called into special session last year because of a fight in the Senate over a request for $25 million more in funding for higher education. The Senate failed to pass the education budget in the 2008 regular session, but it passed unanimously this year.
Higher education advocates and lobbyists appear much happier with the budget this year and have said it is fair.
-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen