MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- The Alabama House late Wednesday adopted a $5.7 million budget that gives teachers and other education employees their first pay raise since 2008.
The spending plan includes a contentious proposal supported by the Republican majority to spend about $5 million to provide liability insurance for teachers. Many teachers currently get their liability insurance through the Alabama Education Association. Democrats and AEA officials said the liability insurance issue was an attempt by Republicans to bust the teachers' union.
The budget gives public school employees a 2 percent raise. That's less than the 5 percent increase supported by Democratic lawmakers.
The budget was adopted late Wednesday after more than six hours of debate on the spending plan and a separate pay raise bill.
House members voted 62-37 against a proposed amendment by Democratic Rep. Richard Lindsey of Centre to increase the raise to 5 percent.
Republican Rep. Jay Love of Montgomery, chairman of the House education budget committee, said the state couldn't afford a 5 percent raise, partly because of the need to pay back a rainy day saving account. The budget now goes to the Senate.
House Speaker Mike Hubbard, an Auburn Republican, said Love did a good job upholding Republicans' promise to operate government within its means while still finding the money to "reward teachers.
"We have made historic gains this session on our path to improve education in Alabama and this budget is yet another step toward innovation and progress," said Hubbard. "At a time when we face great economic uncertainty, I'm proud that we were able to not only provide a raise to our teachers but also provide them with the same liability protections all other state employees receive."
Love said the budget is still feeling the effects of the recession.
"Because we've made smart, common-sense financial decisions we are able to provide our teachers with the first pay increase they've received in years, putting money back into the pockets of our state's educators," Love said.
Democrats urged Republicans to put more money in the budget for school safety, suggesting that money be spent on numerous projects, including funding additional school resource officers and providing metal detectors and funds for working with mentally ill students.
"We have to make sure we have resource officers in every school," Democratic Rep. Merika Coleman-Evan of Midfield said. All of the school safety amendments were defeated. Love agreed that more needs to be done on the school safety issue, but he said he wants to wait until a committee studying the issue finishes its work.