Alabama budget throws crumbs to teachers

Loachapoka High School in Loachapoka, Alabama. (Wikimedia Commons)

Last week, the Alabama legislature approved a record $ 8.26 billion education budget with the largest teacher pay raises since the mid-1980s. The raises are an attempt to staunch the collapse of public education in the state and slow the mass exodus of chronically underpaid teachers.

The New York Times, covering this and similar meager increases nationally, voiced the hope that the small pay bumps could “assuage teachers over labor concerns, with teachers having gone on strike in cities such as Sacramento and Minneapolis.” The Democratic Party mouthpiece expressed the ruling elite’s deep anxiety over the growing movement of workers against poverty pay levels and social inequality being exacerbated by the pandemic and the US proxy war in Ukraine.

Alabama’s Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget includes an initial increase for fiscal year 2023 ranging from 4 percent for those with less than 9 years of experience, up to 21 percent for those with 35 years’ experience. Thereafter, there will be annual step increases of 1 percent for all teachers, stopping after 35 years of teaching. Republican Governor Kay Ivey, who faces multiple opponents in the primary election this May, is expected to sign the bill into law shortly.

The response on social media was appropriately angry. “To truly impact [retention] teachers need 25-30% pay raises. We have been underpaid for decades, ”said one. Another added, “too little, too late.”

Apparently, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, commenting on the recently announced pay increases around the country told the New York Times, “Let me just say this: It’s never too late.” She continued, “People do not go into teaching to become rich, but they should be able to raise their kids on a decent salary.” Despite the disclaimer, Weingarten, netting more than $ 500,000 annually, apparently chose the first reason.

For its part, the Alabama Education Association likewise gushed its approval of measures. “The No. 1 sentiment has been: It’s about time, and it’s very much appreciated, ”said Amy Marlowe, the association’s executive director. Inadvertently pointing to the union’s failure to fight for decent wages over decades, she noted it is the first time teachers in Alabama have seen a pay raise of this scale since 1983. Over the last two decades, the legislature has approved cost-of-living raises, ranging from 2 to 7 percent, only eight times.

The result has been that Alabama teachers subsist on poverty wages. The state is rated 35th out of 50 states in salaries, with teachers receiving $ 10,000 a year less than their colleagues in other states on average. The current legislation utterly fails to make up for these decades of stagnating wages.

For most teachers the initial, larger raise will not even keep up with rising prices in 2022. Teachers rightly noted on social media, we are “basically breaking even… inflation and cost of living.” Another added, “What a joke !! 1% pay raise… you still go in the hole every year when insurance goes up, ”added another.

Teachers also questioned whether the money would even make its way into teachers’ paychecks, or whether it would be whittled down after it passes through the hands of local school boards and superintendents.

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