Alabama State Superintendent of Education Eric Mackey presented his fiscal year 2024 K-12 budget to legislators last week, requesting an additional $984 million in funding next year. The request comes in addition to about $370 million in new K-12 funding that the legislature appropriated for 2023.

Mackey’s request declined from the more than $800 million he asked for last year; nevertheless, K-12 is likely to still see a large funding bump next year.

Increased education funding has not led to better outcomes for Alabama students. Alabama’s National Assessment of Education Progress scores have remained stagnant over the past 25 years, growing worse in some cases. A 15% gap remains in students graduating from high school versus those who are college and career ready. Yet from 2010 through the fiscal year 2023 Education Trust Fund budget, total education spending increased by nearly 59%.

More funding isn’t producing better results, so why do state leaders continue following the same broken model?

A deeper dive into Mackey’s request gives insight into the State Department of Education’s priorities. Filling 3,000 new teacher positions across the state, as well as new counseling and administrative positions, would take up $264 million of the new funding. There were approximately 1,500 unfilled teaching positions at the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year, a Department survey reported, showing that school systems continue struggling to fill the gap.

Raising the classroom supply allowance for teachers from $900 to $1,000 per year is another part of the proposal. Many teachers use their own money to buy classroom supplies during the school year. They should not have to. But increasing the supply allowance for teachers equates to only about $4.7 million, less than one-half of one percent of the almost $1 billion request. Providing needed resources to existing teachers should be a bigger priority.

Mackey also indicated that an additional $20 million would go toward the transportation costs of local school boards. Despite school shutdowns in 2020, when almost no buses were operating, transportation costs rose by about 16% over the past five years.

While a significantly smaller piece of the overall education pie, administrative spending is growing at a much faster pace than K-12 funding. Between 2018 and 2022, total state and local funding to local school boards increased by 14.7%. Over the same period, annual funding for the State Department of Education’s Administrative Services Program increased by more than 86%.

While considering the $1 billion funding increase, it is also important to remember that local school boards have received about $3.3 billion in federal COVID-19 stimulus funding. Just 37% of those stimulus dollars were spent as of Feb. 27, 2023, meaning that local school systems already have over $2 billion at their disposal. Why should taxpayers contribute another $1 billion to K-12 when systems aren’t using money already available to them?

Mackey acknowledged this saying, “It’s been a struggle in many districts to spend the funds they have because one of the best ways to spend these federal funds is on people, and they can’t match people to the money.”

Mackey’s response raises several questions.

First, stimulus funding is inherently temporary, so why would local school systems be trying to fill permanent positions with relief dollars that will expire? Experts have warned state governments about the risks associated with this strategy. If local systems do so, it will almost certainly set the stage for future budget shortfalls.

But if school systems already have billions of dollars available and still can’t fill open positions, how is the State Department of Education providing funding for an additional 3,000 positions going to be any different?

In the upcoming legislative session, lawmakers will determine how to spend the state’s $3 billion surplus. Total state spending rose by nearly 40% in the past five years, with education funding accounting for the bulk of that increase. What have Alabamians received for their money?

Instead of spending billions of dollars more on education, the Department and local school systems should carefully prioritize the record-high funding they already have, including unspent stimulus money. The State Department of Education should also look towards structural reforms to transform Alabama’s education model because too little money is not the problem.

State surpluses should be reserved for providing permanent tax relief to citizens and investing in projects of significant statewide need, not to expand education bureaucracy or throw more dollars at a problem that money has not fixed.

Justin Bogie serves as Fiscal and Budget Reporter for 1819 News. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to: