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State Senate bill could send over $3.2 million to Madison City Schools

MADISON – The Madison City School District could receive over $3.2 million this year, separate from the state education budget or any federal relief money flowing to them.

Senate Bill 193 sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, allocates money through the state’s Advancement and Technology Fund, which can be spent on one-time purchases in tech, capital improvements and a few other select expenses. The proposal that passed the Senate distributes nearly $76.3 million to higher education institutions and nearly $206 million to K-12.

For the smallest school systems, it’s several hundred thousand dollars. Mobile County, the state’s largest K-12 system, would get $14.8 million. Every school district’s proposed allocation is listed in the bill approved by the Senate and now in the House. Schools would receive the money this summer.

The bill would provide $3,210,535 to Madison City Schools. Madison County Schools would receive $5,281,831, and Huntsville would receive $6,441,389.

While K-12 schools, colleges and universities are expected to get more than $4 billion total between three rounds of federal COVID-19 relief, the Advancement and Technology Fund can be spent in ways the federal money can’t and is still critical to schools.

“There are a few expenditure allowances by this fund that are not allowed by the recent release of federal dollars to help with COVID-19,” said Ryan Hollingsworth, executive director of School Superintendents of Alabama.

Those areas include transportation, repairs and deferred maintenance and school security measures.

“(Security) is a critical area that must be addressed on an annual basis to keep our students and staff safe and is a very high priority for superintendents,” Hollingsworth said.

Meanwhile, about 81% of the cost of transportation for a school district is covered by the state in the education budget, the rest comes from systems’ local funding, Hollingsworth said.

Maintenance is an ongoing cost, especially in older schools.

“While the bond issue approved during the last legislative session was a tremendous help and greatly appreciated by superintendents, it did not allow us to address all the needed repairs or issues that arise from year to year,” Hollingsworth said. “Another issue related to repairs are the very high cost for projects due to material cost and labor shortages.”

Split for 2021 and 2022

The Advancement and Technology Fund has been around since the creation of the Rolling Reserve Act 10 years ago. The act caps spending each year based on previous years’ revenue — not revenue estimates for the upcoming year. Some of that excess money goes back to schools in the form of Technology and Advancement Fund dollars allocated each year. The fund is never guaranteed, and amounts have varied.

But 2021 and 2022 spending and revenue, largely because of COVID-19, won’t hit that cap, meaning there won’t be significant deposits into the fund. So, lawmakers are proposing splitting 50/50 available revenue between this year and in 2022.

“The Advancement and Technology Fund is not a reliable revenue stream for schools and colleges,” Orr said. “And we did not want to go from a couple hundred million one year to $0, and that’s what we were looking at in 2022.”

Meanwhile, Orr said, there are still concerns about COVID-19’s lingering impact, prompting continued caution for budget makers.

“That gives us a cushion in fiscal 2022 if needed,” Orr said. “If the virus rears its ugly head again in the fall or winter, having that Advancement and Technology Fund to shore up the budget if we needed to gives us a lot more flexibility.”

The legislation says the Alabama State Department of Education must approve K-12 systems’ spending of the funds. Money not spent this year can be carried forward.

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