We are halfway through the 2022 Legislative Session, and there are some big updates in education policy – especially this week. We’ve outlined what is happening with legislation that is on our 2022 Legislative Agenda below. To view our full agenda, click here. To learn more about smart, student-centered education policy solutions, be sure to check out our brand new A+ Policy Portal!
Updates on Education Bills on A+’s Agenda
- The Alabama Literacy Act: The Legislature is considering two important bills that would make changes to the Alabama Literacy Act to improve implementation.
- HB 220, sponsored by Rep. Terri Collins: This bill would update some provisions of the Alabama Literacy Act, including in the retention policy. For example, English language learners would have three years (currently 2) of ELL instruction before they could be retained. Also, it clarifies that no child will be retained in third grade more than once. Originally, this bill would have delated the retention provision for one year. However, a compromise has been made to have a two-year delay, which will be done in a separate bill (SB 200). On Wednesday, February 23rd, the Alabama House of Representatives passed this bill out of their chamber. The bill now goes to the Senate. Be sure to look out for this bill in the Senate Education Policy Committee as soon as next week.
- SB 200, sponsored by Sen. Rodger Smitherman: This bill would delay the retention provision in the Alabama Literacy Act. Currently, this provision is set to go into effect at the end of this school year. Sen. Smitherman’s bill would delay that by two years, going into effect during the 2023-24 school year.
- Amending the Textbook Process and Supporting High-Quality Instructional Materials in the Classroom: The Alabama Senate passed a bill that makes important updates to Alabama’s textbook selection process and improves access to high-quality instructional materials. This legislation is now awaiting a vote on the House floor for final passage.
- SB 15, sponsored by Sen. Tim Melson: This bill requires textbook vendors to show alignment to Alabama standards, allows the publication of ratings and reviews of instructional materials, allows the Alabama State Department of Education to create specialized instructional materials review committees to review and rate varying instructional materials, and more.
- First Grade Readiness: The Legislature is considering a bill that would ensure that all students enter the first grade with a strong educational foundation. Currently, Alabama students are not required to attend school until 6 years of age. This bill has passed the Alabama House of Representatives and now goes to the Senate for consideration.
- HB 331, sponsored by Rep. Pebblin Warren: This legislation would require that a child either complete Kindergarten (public, private, faith-based, home school, etc.) or pass a basic first-grade readiness assessment before entering the 1st grade. If not, the student would need to go to Kindergarten first.
- Workforce Readiness: The Legislature is currently considering a bill that would help improve college and career readiness rates. While 92% of students graduated from high school in 2020, only 76% were defined as college & career ready. We must provide our students more high-quality pathways to successful careers. This bill has passed the House of Representatives and is waiting for action in the Senate committee.
- HB 241, sponsored by Rep. Terri Collins: This bill would create a credential registry to ensure programs are preparing students for in-demand jobs, instituting a credential review process to ensure quality, and requiring students to earn one or more college and career readiness indicators before graduating.
- Student Mental Health: Currently, the Alabama Legislature is considering 3 bills that seek to improve mental health support and access for students.
- HB 123, sponsored by Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter: This bill would require there to be at least one mental health coordinator in every school district. These coordinators are responsible for assisting students and families in connecting with mental healthcare in their community. This bill has passed the House and is waiting for action in the Senate Finance & Taxation Education Committee
- SB 40, sponsored by Sen. Rodger Smitherman: This bill would require the Alabama State Department of Education to develop a program to address the needs of students who have been identified as at-risk for developing mental health issues. This bill has passed the Senate and is waiting for action in the House Ways & Means Education Committee.
- The New Proposed Numeracy Act: Currently, the Legislature is considering a bill that would create a comprehensive, statewide plan to improve Alabama’s last-in-the-nation math achievement. This legislation awaiting action in the Senate Finance & Taxation Education Committee.
- SB 171, sponsored by Sen. Arthur Orr: As introduced, this bill would focus on K-5 math and includes teacher training, math coaching, formative assessments and screeners to identify struggling students, interventions to catch those students up, training and support for school leaders to support math, and potential school intervention for schools that are unable to improve.
Education Trust Fund Budget
Thursday, February 24, 2022, the House Ways and Means Education Committee heard from 3 groups presenting on their budget requests: Jessica Sanders from the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE); Susan Poling, Executive Director of Alabama Leaders in Educational Technology (ALET); and Dr. Lee Meadows, Executive Director of the Alabama STEM Council. A public hearing on the budget proposed by the House of Representatives will be next Tuesday and the budget is expected to be voted back next Wednesday, so be sure to look for the next edition of Budget Watch.
The ALSDE presentation focused on the 5 priority budget items that the department is looking for increases for in the FY2023 ETF budget, including:
- Classroom Materials: The ETF budget currently funds $700 per classroom for teachers to spend on classroom materials as part of the Foundation Program. ALSDE is requesting an increase to allow teachers to spend up to $1,000 for their classrooms, which would cost an additional $14,153,262 per year.
- Math: In preparation for the potential passage of the aforementioned Numeracy Bill, SB 171, ALSDE requested $12 million in new funds to support math education. Regardless of the passage of the bill, ALSDE says it will use the requested $12 million to scale up work already underway to improve math education, including math coaches for an additional 20 underperforming schools, and early math screeners. This $12 million is on top of federal COVID relief funds the department is using to pay for:
- Training teachers on the new Math Course of Study
- Assessments for 4th and 5th-grade students (the legislature allocated funds for assessments for K-3 students)
- The Teachers in Residence Program
- A small number of math coaches
- Technology: The FY21 budget allocated $60,967 per school district for technology coordinators and cybersecurity efforts. Due to the increased need for and use of technology over the past several years because of COVID-19, the department is asking for an increase based on the recommendations of ALET.
- Reading Coaches: Right now, school districts receive $84,981 yearly (plus additional funds based on the number of K-3 schools in their district) to pay for reading coaches. Reading coaches cost approximately $86,000, and ALSDE is asking for an additional $9 million to fully-fund reading coaches from state money.
- K-3 Auxiliary Teachers: The ALSDE is looking to fund auxiliary teachers in grades K-3, similar to the auxiliary teachers in preschools who have credentials but not full teacher certification. ALSDE says the total cost to fund an auxiliary teacher for each classroom K-3 would be about $526 million. Recognizing this is a big lift, the department says that whatever money is allocated for auxiliary teachers could be used in conjunction with the various grant programs to increase achievement in underperforming schools.
During their respective presentations, ALET asked for $68,000 per district to fund cybersecurity efforts and Alabama STEM Council requested full funding for the UABTeach program as well as 4 new UTeach programs at universities across the state to recruit new STEM teachers.
Keep Up With Our Updates
As always, we will update you with more information as it comes available. Follow along with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn. We will also continue sending our weekly education news round-up, The Gist, every Friday morning with updates from the previous week. Click here to sign up.