- Associated Press - Thursday, April 21, 2016

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Alabama lawmakers on Thursday gave final approval to the education budget and a 4 percent pay raise for teachers - their first tangible increase since 2008.

The House of Representatives and state Senate on Thursday approved conference committee reports on the legislation. The two bills now go to Gov. Robert Bentley who praised the legislative approval.

“Alabama’s future sits in classrooms today, and our state’s teachers and support staff work hard to prepare students for success,” Bentley said in a statement.

The $6.3 billion education trust fund budget, which is fueled by sales and income taxes, is at its highest level since the 2008 recession.

Lawmakers had prioritized a raise for teachers in the spending bill. Teachers and education employees making less than $75,000 annually will get a 4 percent raise. Education employees making more than $75,000 will get a 2 percent raise. Principals and assistant principals would also get the 4 percent raise regardless of their income.

“The last real raise they had was in 2008,” Senate Finance and Taxation Committee Chairman Arthur Orr said.

A 2013 pay increase was entirely offset by increases in benefit costs.

The approved budget did not include any sort of one-time bonus that some legislators had sought for education retirees. Orr said lawmakers hope to make that a priority next year.

The budget and raise passed both chambers by wide margins.

The budget also boosts funding for the state’s small, but highly praised, voluntary prekindergarten program from $48.5 million to $85.5 million.

Currently, there are only enough classrooms for 20 percent of all 4-year-olds. The $16 million increase, along with a $17.5 million federal grant, will enable another 2,800 children to attend, according to the Alabama School Readiness Alliance.


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