By Dr. Henry C. Mabry, Executive Secretary
What do educators in Alabama have to look forward to concerning raises as the 2015 session looms just over the horizon?
The prospects might not be good without changes in November, considering the anti-education Republican supermajority refused to grant a pay raise in an election year. Reviewing all of the last quadrennium, active educators only got a pay cut, rather than a pay raise. Retired educators have received nothing since 2007, and with this crowd in control we do not anticipate any help in the near term and can even foresee a rollback of retiree COLAs more than we can expect any increase in retirement checks. At least we were able to stop another $500 annual pay cut in the form of a PEEHIP out-of-pocket increase this last session even though detractors continued trying to stick it to our people.
The Legislature’s refusal to grant educators a pay raise in an election year was unprecedented in Alabama politics. But this is a new breed of politicians running the state house these days.
When the Legislature actually proposed cutting pay during an election year, it’s hard to imagine what they will do given another four years with the same legislative leadership.
When the anti-education led GOP Supermajority took over and convened for a special session on “ethics” in December 2010, it was apparent their aim over the next four years would be to destroy AEA. Teachers and support professionals would simply be collateral damage in their multiple efforts to destroy AEA.
In the beginning of the anti-education Reign of Terror in 2011, legislation was passed that required educators to pay almost than $3,000 more out of their paychecks into the state pension fund over three years by raising their employee contribution by 50%.
It was a mean-spirited plan at a time when teachers were under more stress in the classroom and were having to buy instructional materials out of their own pockets.
By 2014, the increase in the pension contribution amounted to a cumulative pay cut of $2,618 for a teacher, while support staff took a cut of $1,100 each.
And this year, a teacher is now contributing more than $1,200 additional dollars into their retirement funds. The Legislature giving back two percent by increasing pay does not offset the pay cut. The past four years under the anti-education led GOP Supermajority under Mike Hubbard and Del Marsh has not been kind to teachers and professional support staff.
That brings us to 2015.
There has already been discussion concerning propping up the ailing General Fund by siphoning off dollars from the Education Trust Fund. Other talk has been about taking education money to give to big companies under the mantle of economic development.
The governor says the state is running short on money to lure manufacturers and other larger employers to Alabama. Education already pays for the vast majority of tax incentives and economic incentives through training costs, and now there are those who want to take more.
Is giving out hundreds of thousands of dollars per job really worth it to the state? Sometimes yes, but most of the time, no. The bounty given Mercedes and Honda was worth it but the largesse given Thyssen Krupp was not - a company given a billion of our states dollars only to leave the state in less than a decade.
If Hubbard and Marsh continue at the helm in the legislature we expect more economic development corporate welfare legislation designed to rape the Education Trust Fund. These fellows have wanted to take income tax paid by workers to be put in the pockets of the employers rather than the schools. They tried bringing this legislation in 2012 and thank the Lord we killed it. We expect these anti-education bills to be back in the spring of 2015.
Something else to look for in 2015 is a revival of the plan to merge Alabama’s Education Trust Fund Budget and the General Fund.
A call went out in August for state leaders to sign a petition against combining the budgets, but the effort got no traction among GOP lawmakers.
An effort for unifying the state budgets was attempted in 2012 but the Legislature did not support the idea.
For the past three years, the state has balanced the General Fund budget by borrowing $145 million a year from the Alabama Trust Fund under a plan approved by voters in 2012.
But that money will be gone after the 2015 budget year, which starts October 1. And the state must repay the Alabama Trust Fund, including a $15 million payment due in 2016. That puts the state General Fund in a $160 million hole for 2016.
Many anti-education Republicans need to be replaced in November. If we are successful in beating enough anti-education Republicans, then we have a fighting chance to protect the Education Trust Fund and right some of the funding wrongs over the past four years.
Tell your legislative candidates that you need a raise, that education funding should be hands off, and that classroom funding cuts need to be restored. Your voice can make all of this happen for the good of public education.