Alabama Legislative Update

The Legislature is a third of the way through its session this week, and so far the 2014 Session has been relatively tame. Below are some of the issues we’re following:

College and Career Ready Standards

A+ has been working closely with the other members of Alabama GRIT – Graduate Ready. Impact Tomorrow. to make sure legislators understand and recognize the broad public support for the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards (CCRS). The State Board of Education adopted these standards in 2010 on the recommendation of its Course of Study Committees for mathematics and English language arts, and schools have been implementing the standards over the last two years. The CCRS set benchmarks for what students are expected to know at the end of each grade in math and English, and local schools and teachers design curricula, pacing guides, and lesson plans based on their students’ needs. The CCRS are more rigorous than previous standards and are designed to ensure students graduate from high school prepared to enter college or the workforce without the need for remediation.

Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh and Speaker Mike Hubbard have stated that the issue of academic standards falls under the purview of the State Board of Education, not the Legislature, and that Alabama needs to maintain its rigorous academic standards. Despite this, Sen. Scott Beason is said to have been seeking co-sponsors for legislation to repeal the CCRS.

A+ and other members of GRIT are asking citizens to contact their legislators to support Alabama’s CCRS and to not cosponsor any bill that would repeal the College and Career Ready Standards. If you have not contacted your legislators, please follow this link to find contact information for them:

Education Trust Fund Budget (SB184)

The Legislature has not taken up the Fiscal Year 2015 Education Trust Fund Budget, but Sen. Trip Pittman, chair of the Senate Committee on Finance and Taxation-Education, has introduced a placeholder bill based on Gov. Bentley’s $5.9 billion budget recommendation.

Gov. Bentley’s budget recommendation introduced at the beginning of the session in mid-January reflects the realities of an election year. Nearly all increases in the budget go towards a 2% pay raise for teachers and other education personnel, which translates to $138 million increase in the Foundation Program and a $12 million increase in the transportation allocation. The governor’s recommendations include only portions of what the State Board of Education and Supt. Tommy Bice and other education officials requested to improve and expand programs with proven track records of success.

You can download the budget spreadsheet here.

Among other things, the governor’s recommended budget:

  • includes a request for a $10 million increase for funding Alabama’s First Class pre-k. This would be a significant increase but is less than the $12.8 million requested by the Office of School Readiness and advocated for by the Alabama School Readiness Alliance’s Pre-K Task Force.
  • includes a $2.5 million increase for the state’s Career Tech Education Initiative, half of what the State Department of Education requested.
  • includes a $2.5 million increase for the Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative (AMSTI), half of what the ALSDE requested.
  • includes $422,193 in funding that helps Teach For America operate in Black Belt schools, where there are few local donors (like in Huntsville and Birmingham) to fund its professional development of teachers.
  • does NOT include a request for additional funding to expand ACCESS Distance Learning, which would be used to develop an online high school for the state of Alabama.
  • does NOT include a request for funding to expand Alabama’s nationally recognized Advanced Placement program for another 20 high schools.
  • does NOT include funding for Professional Pathways, a program that would help Alabama retain its best teachers by creating meaningful career pathways in schools and systems.
  • does NOT include a request to fund an Innovation Zone that would spur innovation in schools.
  • does NOT include funding for student assessments that would allow Alabama to move away from high-stakes “bubble tests” and implement more meaningful assessments that better gauge student learning and provide meaningful feedback for teachers.

The Senate will take up the budget later in the session, and these numbers only serve as a starting point. Everything will be in flux throughout the debate.

Other bills we’re watching:

SB290 – This bill “would allow each local board of education to provide the required 180 full instructional days based on an hourly equivalent of 1080 instructional hours.”

This bill would give more flexibility to local school districts, which could give administrators and teachers more ways to meet their students’ individual needs. However, school and district leaders should keep in mind that research on time and learning show the models that have significantly improved student achievement add at least an hour or more to instructional days. Lengthening the school year (NOT shortening it) is also significantly important. Adding 10-20 minutes to each day is virtually useless in terms of helping students achieve more.

Fortunately for students, SB290, unlike its 2012 predecessor, does not arbitrarily mandate beginning and end dates of the school year based on the tourism industry’s desire for a longer vacation season. If this bill passed, local school systems could still determine their own calendars.

HB345/SB217 – This bill would create the Alabama Workforce Council, “an appointed group of state business and industry senior managers responsible for advising and supporting” the Chancellor of the Alabama Community College System and the State Superintendent of Education. This concept comes from the Governor’s College and Career Ready Task Force that just finished its year-long work of finding ways to better align Alabama’s educational system and prepare students for college and career. One of the recommendations of this Task Force was to continue their work, and the AWC would allow for that.

This work of ensuring communication and collaboration among all levels of education and the stakeholders of education is important to ensuring the effectiveness of the system. A+’s advocacy in 2012 for an Education Investment Council built on the work of many other proponents for alignment across the system and helped lead to the creation of the College and Career Ready Task Force. Notably, the CCR Task Force (and A+’s plan for an EIC) included more representation from education officials than HB345/SB217 currently outlines.

HB384 – “This bill would provide a state income tax credit to individuals and businesses that make contributions to the Department of Postsecondary Education for qualifying educational expenses directly associated with the Career-Technical Dual Enrollment Program as defined by the State Board of Education.”

This bill would allow businesses to donate to Career-Tech Education programs at community colleges to cover the costs of local high school students enrolling in order to earn CTE credit and industry certification. This could help create more partnerships between employers and the educational systems, as well as better prepare students for life after graduation.

HB191 – This bill would require that a student be counted as a transfer if he or she enrolls in an online school after dropping out of his or her local school. Previously, these students were counted as dropouts.

While this bill does not create or fund online schools, this bill acknowledges that education in the U.S. has changed and continues to change. Increasingly, other educational options—like online schools—are available to students, and in some cases Alabamians are enrolling in them to continue their education.

SB38 – This bill would prevent any regulation of private and religious schools in Alabama by the State Department of Education, the State Board of Education, or the State Superintendent of Education.

Currently, Alabama has less regulation and accountability over private schools than most other states. There is virtually no way to assure private or religious schools in Alabama provide a quality education to students who attend them. Last summer, the State Department of Education attempted to license private schools in Alabama through a fee-based model. That attempt was met with a backlash, and this bill is a result of that backlash.