Alabama's Superintendent of Education is calling it the biggest financial challenge in years and he's preparing for what could be a rocky financial road ahead. Thursday, a work session was held and the topic of Alabama's education budget for 2015 was on the agenda.
The budget will be decided in the upcoming 2014 legislative session, and so far, lawmakers say there's only enough money to meet a fraction of what state education officials are requesting.
Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice spoke very candidly about the budget, putting it plainly saying more than once that 2015 will be the most difficult financial year yet.
The state's need for adequate education funding grows each year, but Bice says with no new revenue being pumped into state coffers, the budget talks should be interesting.
It wasn't what the state board of education wanted to hear, but the numbers are reality.
"Our department is gonna have some hard decisions to make over the next several weeks," Bice warned. He and Dr. Craig Pouncey say the state needs $230 million dollars simply to operate schools. The legislature can only provide $146 million.
And there's a catch. The money has to be split, "between K-12, post secondary and higher education," Bice says.
Bice told board members their "homework" is to find out what can be cut in their districts, "before we send our budget across to the governor."
The superintendent says, thankfully, members of the state legislature were at the meeting. "I definitely think them being here will be beneficial because typically when we do budget hearings across the street when the session starts, it's more generic and not nearly the deep conversation that you heard," Bice said.
The hope is that the legislature will find more money to allocate for schools.
No matter what, a portion of the $146 million the department of education gets will be directed to middle schools. Dr. Bice says it's a problem area.
"We've been able to identify that our largest number of dropouts occur in the 9th grade, which means they're overage and undercredited, which means that phenomenon actually started several years earlier in 6th, 7th and 8th grade," Bice said.
Lawmakers will begin looking at the state's education budget during this coming year's legislative session.
They'll have to keep in mind that the department of education is also faced with rising healthcare costs. That alone could make up roughly $75 million of the dollars needed in 2015.
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