MONTGOMERY — In her State of the State address on Tuesday, Gov. Kay Ivey announced her call for a special session to handle the allocation of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.
She also announced the state's plans to raise pay for teachers, issue tax rebates, expand adoption access and more.
Ivey spoke to lawmakers and other high-profile state officials in the old House chambers in the Alabama Capitol building.
Ivey announced the special session would begin immediately, with the regular legislative session already underway to allocate more than $1 billion in funds from ARPA.
ARPA is a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by U.S. Congress in 2021. The Legislature had a special session in 2022 to allocate $772 million in appropriations, $400 million of which went toward constructing new prisons.
With more stringent restrictions on what the money can be used for this year, Ivey says the main priority is infrastructure.
"I'll say again: This is not 'free money,' and we must invest these one-time funds wisely. Last year, thanks to you, members of the Alabama Legislature, we put these dollars to work, meeting some of Alabama's biggest challenges. I commit to the people of Alabama we will once again take a smart approach and put it towards major and needed endeavors like expanding broadband access, improving our water and sewer infrastructure and investing in our health care — including telemedicine."
Ivey also hit on her education policy objectives, which included an endorsement of charter schools, falling short of full-on school choice.
"As I laid out my vision for these next four years during my inaugural address, I chose to speak on the need to improve school choice in Alabama," Ivey said. "In fact, I was probably the only Alabama governor to ever do so in an inaugural address."
"It's important we continue to have meaningful discussions on school choice," she added. "That must begin with improving the school choice we already have: Our charter school options and the Alabama Accountability Act. I am proposing we provide startup funds for Charter Schools and make needed reforms to the governance of the Charter School Commission in order to create better accountability."
State Sen. Larry Stutts (R-Tuscumbia) and State Rep. Ernie Yarbrough (R-Trinity) have proposed a school choice bill called the Parental Rights in Children's Education (PRICE) Act. The bill would allow parents to start an "education savings account," allowing them to use some of their tax funds to send their children to private school, home school, or even an out-of-district school.
While Ivey's proposal to not acknowledge that particular school choice proposal, she suggested further funding for charter schools and reforming the governing structure of the Charter School Commission.
"I am proposing we provide startup funds for Charter Schools and make needed reforms to the governance of the Charter School Commission in order to create better accountability. These actions will allow more charter schools to form and to ensure high-quality education and, ultimately, create more choices for parents."
Ivey pushed a one-time tax rebate for individuals, a proposal already floated at a Tuesday budget hearing at the state house.
"I am calling on you to put nearly a billion dollars back into the hands of hardworking, taxpaying Alabamians through one-time rebates of $400," Ivey said. "That means $800 for our working families, and it couldn't come at a better time."
She hinted at long-awaited legislation to streamline the adoption process now that the four-year restructuring of Alabama's adoption law is complete.
State Rep. Ginny Shaver (R-Leesburg) told 1819 News in January that, now that the legal code has been rewritten, she intends to file legislation to improve the adoption process in the state.
"In a post-Roe world, I am proud Alabama has one of the strongest pro-life laws in America to protect our unborn babies," Ivey said. "However, our work is not done. We must also support parents, whether they are looking to adopt or need childcare, so they can put in a hard day's work to provide for themselves and their children."
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