BY BOB JOHNSON
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama House Ways and Means-Education Committee has approved a $5.74 billion education budget that includes a contentious proposal for the state to pay $5 million for liability insurance for teachers.
The Alabama Education Association currently provides liability insurance for its members. Some Democrats claimed that members of the Republican majority are trying to put the teacher's union out of business. But the chairman of the committee, Republican Rep. Jay Love of Montgomery, said teachers who are not members currently do not have access to liability insurance.
The budget provides a 2 percent raise for teachers and other education employees. That's a reduction from the 2.5 percent raise suggested by Gov. Robert Bentley.
House Speaker Mike Hubbard said the full House would take up the budget proposal Wednesday afternoon.
Bentley said he still supports a 2.5 percent raise like he proposed in his State of the State address, and he would like to see the budget changed back to that amount.
"I believe we can afford it," he said.
He reiterated that his goal is to get close to 10 percent in raises for educators over three years (fiscal 2014, 2015 and 2016).
Bentley said the idea to add liability insurance to the budget came from the Legislature, not from him. He questioned whether the state should pay for double coverage if teachers already have it from another source, such as AEA or their local school system.
AEA Associate Executive Secretary Gregory Graves said the organization objects to the raise being cut below the governor's recommendation, in addition to the money dedicated to liability insurance. "This budget is a slap in the face to all education employees," he said.
The budget approved by the committee was about $180 million more than the $5.56 million budgeted for the current fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30.
The budget is divided with 74 percent spent on K-12 and 26 percent on higher education.
Associated Press Writer Phillip Rawls contributed to this report.