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Ala. Lawmakers Eye Reserve To Increase School Funds

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Alabama lawmakers debated last week whether to approve more money for education by dipping into a reserve fund designed to protect against school cutbacks when tax revenues fall short of projections.

The legislature has already cleared an 8 percent pay raise for teachers. But House-Senate conferees were working last week to resolve differences in their other education-spending plans before the close of the session this week.

Under state law, the governor can reduce--"prorate"--school funding if appropriations exceed available tax revenues. The legislature set up a "proration-prevention fund" two years ago to offset reductions in the event tax revenues are insufficient.

The Senate this month passed a $2.73-billion education budget that exceeds anticipated revenues and would draw more than $20 million from the proration-prevention fund.

The Senate-passed plan is also about $63 million higher than the budget proposed by Gov. Guy Hunt and $28 million above a version passed by the House in February. The state's current education8budget is $2.45 billion.

The Senate plan includes a $17-million amendment to extend the 175-day school calendar by two days, thus moving the state closer to the Southeastern average of 178 days and the national average of 180 days.

Higher Education Increase

Compared with the House bill, the Senate measure also includes an additional $9 million for higher education, $3 million for a cost-of-living increase for retired teachers, and $4.2 million for vocational-education equipment.

Both plans would offer about $20 million toward the continuation of a multiyear effort to reduce class size in the early grades and provide about $6 million to place guidance counselors in elementary schools. Both also would supply modest boosts for a student-testing program and a program to train school administrators.

But the biggest education item approved by both houses so far is the 8 percent pay raise for teachers and state employees. Governor Hunt had proposed a 7.5 percent pay hike.

In clearing the measure, the legislature overrode an executive amendment by Mr. Hunt that would have altered a provision governing raises for support personnel.

Mr. Hunt wanted to prorate support workers' pay raises based on how many hours they work. But the final bill offers them a flat 8 percent or $1,000 raise, whichever is greater.--dc

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