This week, as recovery and clean-up efforts continued in tornado-ravaged communities across Alabama, Gov. Robert Bentley and members of both houses of the Alabama Legislature promised to do everything in their power to help rebuild tornado-damaged and destroyed schools and to fund school needs unmet by insurance and federal aid.
Alabama Senate and House members passed a Joint Resolution Tuesday afternoon recognizing the Legislature’s responsibility for “providing an environment where our children can receive a first-class education” and affirming their commitment to helping the schools in need.
“The Legislature is fully prepared to protect the state’s greatest asset – the education of our children – by ensuring our schools have the help needed to rebuild and move forward,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh (R-Anniston).
Lawmakers passed the resolution after concerns were raised that rebuilding funds should be included in next year’s education budget, which now awaits only conference committee agreement on minor differences before final passage. But it will likely take months before the full extent of damages and potential funding needs can be known.
“While it is unclear what funds will be needed to ensure our schools are rebuilt, passing this resolution sends a message to affected communities that the state will take care to ensure their school systems are made whole again,” said House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn). “We expect funding for rebuilding schools will be made available from insurance payments and federal aid. But, should there be a difference, the state will find a solution.”
Later Tuesday evening, in his address before a joint session of the Legislature, Gov. Bentley said 18 schools sustained heavy damage and at least five were lost. While noting that their assessment to date is preliminary and focuses on the most significantly damaged schools, the State Department of Education has released a report identifying “massive” and “major” damage at 15 schools in Cullman, Dekalb, Franklin, Marion, St. Clair and Tuscaloosa counties, Pell City and the cities of Jasper and Tuscaloosa.
“As leaders of this state, we will see that Alabama is rebuilt,” Gov. Bentley told lawmakers Tuesday night. “It’s a daunting task, but I have no doubt we’re up to it. Now is the time to lead. There will be many things needed of us.”
Read the resolution: HJR 460 by Rep. Mike Hubbard.
In other related action, lawmakers also moved quickly, at the request of State Superintendent Dr. Joe Morton, to pass a bill allowing schools increased flexibility for making up school days missed as a result of the tornadoes.
Senate Bill 271, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), allows local boards of education to make up missed school days by adjusting the number of instructional hours in a day and allowing additional relief from makeup days in extraordinary circumstances.
“Many of our students lost family, friends and homes in the mass devastation caused by last week’s tornadoes,” Orr said. “It’s important that we address this issue as soon as possible so students and families have appropriate time to deal with this disaster and aren’t faced with the additional stress of making up missed days throughout the summer.”