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Friday, March 11, 2011

Bentley signs bill overhauling education funding

Gov. Robert Bentley signed his first bill into law on Friday, a day after the Republican-led Legislature passed the bill overhauling how lawmakers budget money for Alabama schools.
Republicans, including Bentley, pushed the so-called rolling reserve bill to keep lawmakers from spending all of the available money in good economic years and from keeping Bentley and future governors from having to declare proration, across the board cuts required to balance the budget when not enough money is coming into the state to meet spending, in economic downturns.
Democrats are concerned the proposal could hurt Alabama schools, that Republicans are relegating their duties to a formula, and that the Legislature passed the bill during down economic times, which will place the cap unnecessarily low and keep funding from getting to schools for books, supplies, professional development and other needs.
Some years lawmakers passed budgets they knew would go into proration, requiring cuts to schools during the year when teachers and support staff were hired, and children were in classrooms.For too long, state Rep. Greg Canfield said, teachers, administrators and local school boards have "suffered under the burden of uncertain budgets."Canfield, R-Vestavia Hills, the sponsor of the bill, said the lofty budget proposals used to put together the budgets were a false promise.In the last 11 years, Canfield said one in three budgets went into proration."When you look at having proration every third year, that is unacceptable," Bentley said.
The bill would use a 15-year average of money available for the education budget to set a spending cap. Additional revenue beyond that cap would be used to replace money the Legislature borrowed from a state rainy day fund to balance the budget in previous years and revenue after that would be placed in a reserve fund intended to stabilize the education budget. Based on the 2011 fiscal year, the Legislative Fiscal Office estimates there would be 3.38 percent growth for the 2013 education budget.
House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said it is fitting that the budget change is the first bill passed in this four-year term for lawmakers, the first with Republicans in the majority in more than a century. He said the legislation ushers in a new era of fiscal responsibility.
"It sends a message we're going to change the way Montgomery operates," he said. " ... This was the right thing to do."
-- posted by Sebastian Kitchen

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