Education groups agree that the biggest victory of the 2016 legislative session is the increase in money flowing to Alabama’s schools and teachers for the 2017 fiscal year (October 1, 2016, through September 30, 2017).
State lawmakers passed the largest education budget since FY08. That’s big news.
But what does it mean for the 735,000 students and 90,000-plus education employees in Alabama’s 1500-plus public schools? What does it mean for your neighborhood school?
First, a look at the big numbers.
The total Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget was funded at $6.3 billion. The Foundation Program is one part of that budget allocation. Higher education and some other stuff is funded from the ETF as well.
The Foundation Program is required to be funded at a total amount of $4.2 billion, but because of a local district’s requirement to use 10 mills worth of local property tax to participate in the Foundation Program, actual state funding comes out to be $3.62 billion, or $175 million more than FY16. Local school districts will contribute $555 million to that $4.2 billion total for FY17 which is $1.9 million more than FY16.
The Foundation Program was first implemented in 1995 to provide an equitable funding stream and was supposed to pay for basic needs, including teachers, administrators, counselors, and classroom needs, as well as money to maintain Alabama’s public schools.
School officials contend that the Foundation Program has never been fully funded, but this is the closest to full funding since FY08 when the amount was $3.67 billion. In their FY17 budget request, Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) officials estimated an additional $269 million would be needed to fully fund the Foundation program.
In recent years, school officials have had to use local tax dollars to prop up the state’s Foundation Program, putting a strain on districts that have few local tax dollars to use.
Most school officials say the area that takes the most local dollars is transportation.
State funding for transportation dropped dramatically from a high of $300 million in FY08 to a low of $237 million in FY11, though the price of gasoline was sky-high during the same period. Millions in local tax dollars were used to fill that gap, because the number of students and the number of miles driven did not decrease proportionally to match funding.
Funds directed for school bus transportation increased to $297 million for FY17, which is very close to the FY08 allocation, and is $15 million more than allocated for the current year. But that amount is well below the $353 million initially requested by the ALSDE for FY17.
Other current expense (OCE) was another area that received a meaningful increase. Alabama Association of School Boards Executive Director Sally Smith expressed her appreciation, saying, “Lawmakers listened and focused on Other Current Expense which largely funds support personnel to keep schools running and operational, transportation, and classroom needs.”
OCE is allocated based on the number of state-funded teacher units a school district earns.
Teacher units are earned based on the number of students attending a school in a particular grade span. And that number of students is from the previous year, not the current year. Teacher units don’t necessarily equal the number of actual teachers because of the calculations, but generally speaking, think of a teacher unit as a teacher.
OCE increased from $16,281 to $17,021 per teacher unit.
Technology funding also is allocated based on the number of teacher units. That jumped from $64 to $169 per teacher unit. Though that’s helpful, according to Lisa Woodard, Director of Government Affairs for the School Superintendents of Alabama, because it is allocated directly to classrooms, it makes it difficult for school systems to implement large technology initiatives with that money.
Finally, the per unit allocation for student materials for FY17 will be $405, which is up from $374, and is at the highest level ever funded, including in FY09, when it was $400 per unit. Each teacher that receives that allocation is in control of how that money is spent, which in theory should be a relief for teachers spending money out of their pockets for student supplies.
To learn more about how state allocations are calculated and then distributed to school districts, check out this “Guide to State Allocations” from the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE).
Overall, those big numbers look impressive. At the school district level, what it means is that there was a slight increase in the amount of money that will flow from the state to your neighborhood school.
On average, the increase in funding for the Foundation Program results in about $1.33 more per student per instructional day (based on a 180-day school year).
On average, the increase in total state funding for school districts across Alabama amounts to $1.45 more per student per instructional day.
Those amounts were calculated from the full breakdown of how state funding will be allocated across the state’s 735,000 school children.
Check out this page to get a jump on budget season to see how state funding is distributed to your neighborhood schools.
Remember that in addition to state funding, schools receive local and federal funding.
State funding accounts for anywhere from 24% to 71% of a school district’s budget, and as a total of all districts comprised 51% of total school funding in FY15 according to numbers released by the Alabama State Department of Education.
A little more than $8 billion in revenue was allocated to public schools for FY15. FY16 ends on September 30, 2016.
Get the data
The Legislative Fiscal Office publishes the ETF in PDF format. That version does not include the ALSDE’s initial budget request.
[Sorry for the extended absence. I had the great pleasure to attend the Education Writers Association’s National Seminar in Boston last week, where the topic was “The Quest for Quality and Equity”. Wow, I learned so much that needs to be shared here. Stay tuned.]