As a piece of reform legislation designed to strengthen Alabama’s law regarding tenure for education employees awaits further action in the Senate, the State Board of Education made its position known Thursday when members voted overwhelmingly to endorse the bill, known as the Students First Act.
Sponsored in the upper chamber by Sen. Trip Pittman (R-Montrose) and by Rep. Chad Fincher (R-Semmes) in the House, the bill retools the Alabama Tenure and Fair Dismissal Act by providing the balance and local accountability now missing in the statute, and by reducing the time terminated employees can remain on the state payroll during a protracted appeals process.
State School Board members voted 6 to 1 in favor of a resolution endorsing the bill with supporting votes from District 1 member Randy McKinney, District 2 member Betty Peters, District 3 member Stephanie Bell, District 4 member Dr. Yvette Richardson, District 6 member Dr. Charles Elliot, and District 8 member Mary Scott Hunter. District 5 board member Ella Bell cast the lone dissenting vote. Gov. Robert Bentley and District 7 board member Gary Warren were unable to attend due to their involvement in tornado recovery efforts Thursday.
While other states have tackled tenure reform in a variety of ways, such as Florida’s decision to eliminate tenure in favor of contract agreements, or Tennessee’s decision to lengthen probationary periods and tie teacher tenure to student achievement in the classroom, the Alabama law simply provides local school leaders a more streamlined and less costly process for dismissing the least effective education employees. The vast majority of hard-working teachers will not be affected by the change.
Read the Students First Act (SB310/HB465)
Under current law, terminated employees must be paid their full salary and benefits throughout their entire appeal, a process that often takes more than a year. The expense of defending their position for months, paying one employee to stay home, and compensating another to replace them, often ties the hands of frustrated local school leaders who simply can’t afford to pursue the costly termination action.
The Facts About Students First: Despite continued claims by opponents, the Students First Act does nothing to change existing tenure status; and it does not alter the state’s existing and accepted reasons for termination. The bill does, however, reform the most crippling aspects of Alabama’s current law by 1) requiring that an employee’s pay and benefits be withheld upon termination and 2) transferring the appeals process from the adjudication of a federal arbitrator to an administrative law judge selected by the State Department of Education who would have the option of overturning or affirming the board’s decision within 45 days. Under the new bill, if the administrative law judge affirms the board’s decision, the teacher would have the option of appealing to the circuit court. The teacher’s pay would cease upon notification of termination. Should the administrative law judge or an appeals court reinstate the teacher at a later date, back pay and benefits would be restored.