Across the Board 2024: Key Takeaways from the January ALBOE Retreat

Recapping important State Board of Education policy decisions for you

Here are our key takeaways from the January 30th – 31st State Board of Education Retreat – and what they mean for Alabama’s students.

Top 4 Takeaways

1. 2024 Legislative Session Updates

ALSDE staff spoke with Board members about what legislation they are expecting in the upcoming session, which starts next week. 

  • Assistant Principals – Rep. Gidley pre-filed a bill (HB22) that specifies assistant principals as responsible for enforcing discipline rules as stated in student codes of conduct published by local school boards. Current conversations surrounding the legislation are focused on local control and whether the bill should be amended to allow superintendents or local boards to designate certain personnel to deal with discipline issues. The bill does not change the number of students required for schools to earn an assistant principal unit in the foundation program, which has also been a topic of conversation among legislators.  
  • School Choice – Multiple legislators and the Governor have expressed their support for a school choice bill. However, what that will look like has yet to be revealed. Last year, choice bills included: 
    • Parental Rights in Children’s Education (PRICE) Act (2023 SB202/HB295, Sen. Stutts & Rep. Yarbrough)
    • Open Enrollment policies (2023 HB73, Rep. Garrett)
    • Alabama Fits All Scholarship (2023 HB442, Rep. Garrett)
    • Alabama Accountability Act (AAA) changes and expansion (2023 SB263, Sen. Chesteen) which was enacted

The PRICE bill and the Fits All Scholarship would have created education savings accounts (ESAs), but PRICE would have been available to many more families than the other. The open enrollment bill would have required local school systems to have a policy on enrolling students residing outside of their district. ESAs are on the table for legislators this year, but eligible students and the total cost of the program have yet to be determined. 

  • First Grade Readiness – Rep. Warren has, for several years, introduced legislation that would require all students who did not attend kindergarten to show they were ready for first grade through an assessment. ALSDE staff said that she is working on a slightly different version for this year, and it will be brought back to the legislature. 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) – ALSDE staff have been having conversations with legislators about a potential AI bill. In addition, the department is working on guidance for school districts on how to use AI and prevent its misuse. They have not confirmed which legislator will carry the bill.

A+ just released our 2024 Legislative Agenda. Read it here.

2. School Report Cards

Rep. Terri Collins, chair of the House Education Policy Committee, along with Rep. Tashina Morris and Sen. Kirk Hatcher, joined the Board for their retreat. Rep. Collins spoke with Board members about the school report card. 

  • For high schools, the graduation rate makes up 30% of the school’s score on both federal and state report cards. College and career readiness (CCR) makes up 10%. Legislators and Board members discussed switching those numbers, so that CCR would be weighted 30% and graduation rate would be weighted 10%. Last year, the legislature passed HB 109, which made earning a CCR indicator a requirement for graduation for students beginning with the class of 2025-2026. Because of this, graduation rate scores and CCR scores will eventually even out. But until then, the Board can make the change in the state report card so that schools’ scores reflect the number of students prepared for life beyond high school. 
  • A school’s chronic absenteeism rate, or the number of students who did not attend 10% or more of the school year, makes up 15% of the school’s score for elementary and middle schools. For schools with high numbers of students in poverty, attendance is a challenge. Changing the weight for chronic absenteeism to 10% (which is the weight for chronic absenteeism for high schools) and increasing academic growth from 40% to 45% would be a better measure of a school’s performance according to Rep. Collins. 

Dr. Mackey shared that changes to the federal report card have to go through the U.S. Department of Education. In addition, the recent report of the Governor’s Commission on Teaching and Learning recommended realigning the state and federal report cards. So, the question for the board to consider is whether to make changes to the state report card to better reflect student performance and realities in schools.

The most recent school report cards were released at the end of 2023. See the federal report card here and the state report card here.

3. Cell Phones in Classrooms

Board members spoke with Montgomery Public Schools staff about implementing the phone pouches that prohibit students from using cell phones during school hours. The Board was presented with a draft resolution on cell phone use in schools at the January work session. The draft, if adopted, would strongly encourage local boards to adopt a policy limiting cell phones and other device use by students while on school property. Montgomery County is the only district in the state that has fully banned the use of cell phones for all secondary students. 

Essentially, every student must put their phone in a Yondr pouch when they arrive at school, which locks the phone inside and prevents its use during the school day. MPS staff stated that since the implementation of the Yondr phone pouches, discipline referrals and suspensions have decreased significantly. There were challenges during the first semester of implementation with students not following the policy, but in the second semester, there was less pushback. 

Board members shared that other districts in the state were considering implementing the pouches, and they hope that as more districts buy-in, the cost will decrease for everyone.

4. PCG Audit Updates

Public Consulting Group (PCG) released a report in March 2020 outlining a review of the ALSDE it undertook beginning in 2019. The report included recommendations to the department, which you can see in the executive summary or original report. The ALSDE shared an update with the Board on progress made in implementing the recommendations (the last update on this work was in August 2023). On the list of work that has yet to be completed, some activities are: 

  • Implement a math coaching program for all full and limited support schools. 
  • Complete the implementation and training of MTSS/PSTs statewide for all LEAs.
  • Create outcomes data reports for ESSER II and ARP ESSER. 
  • Develop criteria and guidance for LEAs and classrooms for high-quality EL content and Language Instruction. 
  • Implementation of a new statewide teacher application system to replace the current Teach in Alabama. 
  • Increase synchronous student support for ACCESS virtual learning courses.

Dr. Mackey emphasized that just because the work is marked complete on the tracker, it does not mean that the work has stopped. See the tracker here. It is encouraging to see progress on this important report from PCG, and we would encourage additional transparency so the public can see more details to better understand what has been accomplished and plans for continuous improvement. 

To see the full January Board Meeting and Work Session agendas, click here

The Alabama State Board of Education usually meets on the second Thursday of each month, with the exception of the July meeting, to discuss important policies, procedures, and changes for Alabama’s K-12 public schools. The Board takes official action during their monthly meeting and then follows up with a Work Session to get updates and discuss future action that will be voted on at the next board meeting. You can watch them live and see old meetings here.

Contact Your Board Member:

Have feedback on any of the above items – or anything else? Contact your state school board member using the resources below:

-To contact your State Board of Education Member, click here.

-To find out which district you live and/or teach in, click here. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and enter your address in the “Polling Place Search” box. Once entered, it will take you to a page that shows your polling place and the districts you live in.

-To view a map of the state school board districts, click here.