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Walker
Monday, April 15, 2024

Cost of living raises for state retirees, transparency in higher education, report card for public schools

I want to start by wishing you a “Blessed Holy Week and Easter Sunday.” I am looking forward to spending this weekend with family, as we reflect on the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior.

This past week, the legislature took its customary spring break. We are now more than halfway through the legislative session, and I anticipate much more to be accomplished. 

The week leading up to spring break was very busy.  Aside from passing bills and holding committee meetings, the House and Senate participated in what has affectionately been named, “The Battle of Goat Hill.” This is an annual charity softball game between the members of the House and Senate. This year’s recipient was the Big Oak Ranch and former Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle was a guest player for the Senate. I’m happy to announce we were able to raise over $50,000 to support the Big Oak Ranch home for young men and women. The House won with a dominant 13-1 performance, ending a two-game losing streak.

The Alabama House approved a bill that allows the state to once again award cost-of-living adjustment increases to public retirees without adversely affecting the finances of the Retirement Systems of Alabama. Unlike previous COLAs, which placed the long-term burden on RSA and increased its unfunded liabilities, HB201 treats them as a pay-as-you-go line item in the state budget and can be temporarily paused by the legislature during years in which state finances lack adequate funding. Retired teachers and state employees have not received a cost-of-living adjustment since 2006, while inflation has skyrocketed since then. The buying power of a monthly benefit for someone who retired in 2006, for example, is now roughly half what it was when they retired. The legislation does not immediately award a COLA, but it sets up the mechanism that would allow COLAs to resume at some point in the future. This bill now goes to the Senate for further consideration.

Last week, I filed two bills related to education. HB330 would require institutions of higher education to submit an annual report to the governor and legislature if they receive funding from a “foreign country of concern.” The term “foreign country of concern” covers the People’s Republic of China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, the Islamic Republic of Iran, or any other country determined to be a country of concern by the U.S. Department of State. There is a trend on college campuses across the country where countries such as China are sending millions of dollars to fund socialist propaganda unrelated to normal tuition. The report would require the amount of funding and a description of the use of funds to be listed on the report. This will create transparency in our Alabama institutions of higher education regarding the funding that these nations send into our state. My bill mirrors a federal reporting requirement that has been in place for a few years.

I also filed HB331, which would affect the state report card that is assigned to every public school and school district in the state. Our public schools are open enrollment, meaning they take all students regardless of their ability and aptitude. Sometimes a student who has not been enrolled in a public school decides to transfer from a private school or home-school environment to their local public school. Public schools have a responsibility to educate that student from that point forward. Currently, the Alabama State Department of Education includes these non-public transfer students in the calculation of the state report card for their new school. Sometimes these students are on grade level, sometimes they are ahead of schedule, and sometimes they are years behind the state standards by which public schools are graded. My bill would not factor non-public transfer students into the school’s A-F report card grade for the first three years they are enrolled in their public school. The school would still track their progress, provide them with the same level of instruction, and help them achieve grade-level proficiency as quickly as possible. We would simply not judge a public school based on students they had had no control over or previous experience with. Education is a tough business. Sometimes I feel like our public schools are unfairly judged based on factors outside of their control. This will help alleviate one of those situations.

As always, it is my honor and privilege to serve the good people of HD13. Till next week.

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