Education group re-emerges as a force in Alabama politics

The new state fiscal year began Oct. 1, and the two state budgets are flush. Both the general fund and the state special education budgets will be the largest in Alabama history.

The general fund budget is a record-breaking $2.7 billion. It increases the revenue to mental health and prisons. Medicaid continues to be a money-eating monster. State employees are getting a 4% cost-of-living raise. This is the third time in recent history that state workers have gotten a back-to-back pay raise. In addition, retired state employees will get a bonus. State Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Escambia) and Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark), the budget chairmen, deserve accolades.

Mac McArthur, the veteran Alabama State Employees Association executive director, deserves a lot of credit for state employees getting a 4% pay increase this year and 2% last year. Ole Mac has put together four raises in five years for his folks.

Amy Marlowe, Alabama Education Association executive director, and Ashley McLain, her chief lobbyist ally, deserve kudos for garnering a 4% pay raise for teachers. Once again, the AEA has become a power to be reckoned with on Goat Hill.

The Legislature passed a record-breaking $8.17 billion education budget. The historic spending plan increases education funding by about $502 million over the current year. It drew praise from all corners of education for its increases, which includes teachers’ salaries and workforce development. The plan directs more money to classroom materials, the hiring of technology coordinators and reading coaches. Also, there will be $20 million to implement the K-5 math instruction bill.

The budget includes a 4% raise for teachers and lump-sum bonuses for retirees. There is also about a $33 million bonus to increase teacher longevity. Other states have been giving similar salary adjustments. One of the budget allotments that has gotten the most accolades is the increase from $700 to $900 per classroom in supply money.

The story that has been building the past several years is the resurgence of the AEA as a power player on Goat Hill. The fruits of the association’s labor emerged immensely during the Legislature’s regular session. It is apparent that AEA was instrumental in crafting the education budget with the 4% pay increase for teachers and the money that is going into the classroom. You would have thought that former AEA director Paul Hubbert was still sitting in the gallery directing legislators’ votes with a thumbs up or a thumbs down. They have built AEA into a power to be reckoned with at the Statehouse.

The new leadership tandem of Marlowe/McLain has reorganized by acknowledging that Alabama, and especially the Alabama Legislature, is very Republican. They understand the rule that “money is the mother’s milk of politics,” and “you win more bees with honey.”

The AEA has generously donated to House Republicans like nobody’s business and like no other special interest entity. It is no longer taboo or heresy for a Republican legislator or state senator to accept teacher-union money. The AEA has made $10,000 to $15,000 contributions to House members on both sides of the aisle. In reviewing campaign disclosure statements, AEA is the only entity writing checks that large. Checks to senators’ coffers are $25,000 or more.

AEA lobbyists, especially McLain, have earned the friendship and respect of the Republican House members and senators. She and her team have gone out to their districts all over the state and gotten to know them and their families. They have connected each legislator with key educators in their hometowns who are respected centers of influence and can orchestrate a field or army of teachers to work the districts for their legislative friends. This footwork and shoe leather, coupled with large campaign checks ,hits home with legislators of both parties.

The telling blow that resonated and echoed off the walls of the Statehouse was the defeat of the so-called school choice bill. Sen. Del Marsh made it his final mission to place state education dollars into private, parochial and charter schools. His school choice bill was given a stinging defeat by none other than the AEA. Folks, make no doubt about it, the AEA is back in Alabama politics.

Steve Flowers

Steve Flowers served 16 years in the Alabama Legislature. Readers can email him at steve@steveflowers.us.

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