Alabama teacher pay raise likely; amount in question

With Alabama taxpayers pumping more dollars into the state’s education coffers, there is agreement among state leaders that a pay raise for educators is appropriate. But it is unclear how much of a raise legislators are likely to approve.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, who chairs the Alabama Senate’s education budget committee, said during a recent interview on the Alabama Public Television show Capitol Journal that he supports a raise for teachers.

“We have not kept up with the rate of inflation if 2008 is your benchmark,” Orr said today. “You get what you pay for and it’s important to attract more teachers into the field.”

Orr said it was too soon to say what percentage of pay raise he might support.

The Legislature begins its annual session on March 5. Passing the education budget for next year will be one of the main tasks.

Income taxes are the largest source of money for public schools in Alabama. Last fiscal year, the state netted $4.2 billion in income taxes, about $300 million more than the previous year, an 8 percent increase.

Sales taxes, another main source of education funds, grew by 5 percent, to $1.9 billion.

It was the strongest growth in tax dollars for education since the Great Recession. It means more money will be available to appropriate in the next budget.

Alabama teacher salaries worth less than a decade ago

Alabama teacher salaries worth less than a decade ago

“I think teachers are a sleeping giant right now,” Alabama Education Association’s Amy Marlowe said.

The Alabama Education Association says this is the year to help teachers make up ground lost in their compensation over the last decade. The AEA represents teachers and other education employees.

“We have not put out a particular percentage,” AEA public relations manager Ashley McLain said. “I will tell you that 3 or 4 percent is not enough.”

McLain said teachers’ pay has not kept pace with the cost of living over the last decade and it’s time to begin catching up.

The Legislature approved a 2.5 percent cost of living adjustment for educators last year. But before that, educators had received a COLA only twice in 10 years. In 2014, they got a 2 percent raise. In 2017, those earning less than $75,000 got a 4 percent raise; others got 2 percent.

McLain said both of those raises were essentially erased by other out-of-pocket cost.

The 2014 raise came after an increase in what educators contribute to the retirement system. The 2017 raise was offset by an increase in health insurance premiums, McLain said.

“Last year is the first year they’ve gotten a raise that they’ve been able to see,” McLain said.

Although legislators have the final say on the state budgets, they use the governor’s proposals as a starting framework. Daniel Sparkman, press secretary for Gov. Kay Ivey, declined to say whether Ivey will propose a pay raise for teachers.

“Governor Ivey will announce her budget proposal during the State of the State address on March 5,” Sparkman said in an email.

State Superintendent Eric Mackey told Capitol Journal he supports a pay raise for teachers. He declined to give a percentage, saying that was up to the governor and legislators.

“We have great professionals in this state,” Mackey said. “They deserve more than they make.”

Mackey has said the state has a serious shortage of teachers. The superintendent told lawmakers at budget hearings last month that fewer high school students are showing an interest in education careers.

The AEA’s McLain said that’s a key indicator of the need to increase pay.

“Salary is not everything, but it plays a big part of that,” McLain said.

The average salary for Alabama teachers last year was $51,040, according to the Budget Fact Book published by the Legislative Services Agency.

Orr said the Legislature might eventually consider extra pay for teachers in math, science and other subjects with persistent shortages.

Rep. Anthony Daniels of Huntsville, leader of the Democratic minority in the Alabama House, said the caucus is looking at the growth in the Education Trust Fund and other factors as it works to come up with a specific proposal on a raise.

“We’ve got to look at the numbers and see what we can do and be realistic,” Daniels said.

The Alabama Association of School Boards, which often has different priorities for education funding than the AEA, supports a pay raise for educators.

AASB Executive Director Sally Smith issued this statement:

“AASB supports an educator pay raise as an investment in Alabama’s classrooms and schools. Teachers are drivers of student success, and adequate compensation is a critical factor in attracting and retaining quality teachers. While we do not have a position on a specific percentage range for a teacher pay raise, we strongly believe financial sustainability must be a primary factor in making that determination.“

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