The State Board of Education approved its $5.2 billion FY22 education budget request at its meeting Thursday. The budget request, a $459 million increase over FY21, was discussed at last month’s work session and includes funding increases
for school nurses, transportation, Alabama Literacy Act and AMSTI supports, Career and Technology Education, mental health and more. The request now
goes to Gov. Kay Ivey who must submit her proposal to the legislature when it convenes in February 2021.
State Superintendent of Education Dr. Eric Mackey provided a progress update on the number of teachers completing professional development on the science of reading or LETRS training. Professional training to prepare teachers to provide high-quality reading instruction is a key focus of the Alabama Literacy Act. To date, 224 teachers have completed the two-year elementary training, and 657 have completed the one-year, early childhood (PreK and kindergarten) training. Numbers will increase substantially as 8,522 elementary teachers and 696 early childhood teachers currently are enrolled along with another 700 teachers on a wait list. Mackey also discussed the department’s focus to provide stipends for teachers seeking the Certified Academic Language Therapist (CALT) credential for working with students who have dyslexia.
COVID-19 Challenges and Concerns
The board discussed concerns and challenges schools are facing amid the pandemic. Mackey said student engagement and lack of personal interaction with teachers is the biggest challenge for those learning remotely, but schools with hybrid schedules are making progress in balancing engagement. He said he expects most schools will offer a five-day in-person learning option by the end of the semester. He noted contact tracing and quarantine requirements for staff and students continue to interrupt in-person learning, with one school forced to close altogether when 20 employees were under quarantine and there were not enough adults to open the school. This situation may improve with revised quarantine guidelines released Thursday by the Alabama Department of Public Health. The new guidance is expected to significantly reduce the number of staff and students required to quarantine.
Board members had several questions regarding concerns about the state’s digital content, SchoolsPLP. Assistant State Superintendent of Learning Dr. Elisabeth Davis said the curriculum is aligned with the state’s course of study and assured the board that ALSDE staff took great measures to crosswalk content and materials to help teachers. Some local school systems are having integration difficulties between SchoolsPLP and the Schoology learning management platform. The ALSDE has developed tutorials and provided resources to help staff who choose to use these resources. The timing of the pandemic derailed the state’s transition to a new student learning management platform. Original plans were to transition to PowerSchool this year; however, that change now is expected to happen next school year under a revised timeline.
Board members also asked about the impact of teacher retirement and resignations in staffing schools. Mackey said in addition to the shortage of math, science and special education teachers, several systems are having difficulty finding elementary teachers. He said the number of teacher retirements in June and July -- the usual retirement timeframe -- was down; however, that number increased closer to the start of school as those who adopted a “wait and see” approach made their decisions. Mackey said he is concerned by the number of teachers who are frustrated and overwhelmed by the circumstances and may not return to the classroom next year. He added that he is hopeful the legislature will approve incentives such as a pay raise and improvements to Tier 2 benefits and that as school slowly returns to normal, teachers will decide to stay as frustration subsides.
Mackey shared promising news about the teacher pipeline, explaining that entrance requirement changes are leading to a higher number of students enrolling in colleges of education. The ALSDE also is working with colleges of education to use greater flexibility to place students in classroom internships.
Federal COVID-19 Relief Funding
Responding to questions from Dr. Wayne Reynolds (District 8), Mackey addressed speculation that schools may not be able to spend all federal coronavirus relief funds received and may have to return funds. Outlining the different federal funding sources, timelines and challenges in meeting federal spending requirements, Mackey assured the board that schools have great needs and explained he doesn’t expect any funding to revert to the federal government. Among the federal funding sources:
Textbook Committee for K-12 Mathematics
Rebecca Boykin, chair of the state textbook committee, presented an overview of the committee’s process and recommendations for math textbooks to be adopted by the SBOE. The committee was charged with rating textbook alignment with Alabama’s mathematics standards. The overall alignment ratings are “strong” with a score of 3.5 to 4; “moderate” with a score of 2.5 to 3.9 and “weak” with a score below 2.49. Tracie West (District 2) asked why the board should include textbooks scoring “weak” on the approved list, emphasizing that the committee’s hard work should flow to local school systems to get the benefit of best-rated products. Dr. Cynthia McCarty (District 6) agreed, saying textbooks scoring “weak” should not be put forward so the board can be confident the list reflects only content best-aligned to the standards.
The state textbook law says local school systems may not select a book that is rejected by the SBOE. While the SBOE may choose to reject textbooks below a certain score, Mackey warned such action may open the state up to legal action by vendors. Stephanie Bell (District 3) pointed out that the board has rejected textbooks in the past. Mackey explained the scoring rubric information is released after state contracts with vendors are signed. Board members also said they want to ensure the state negotiation produces the best value for school systems. Mackey said the state’s process ensures every system pays the same price for textbooks.
Other SBOE News
The next State Board of Education meeting will be held in Montgomery on November 12 at 10 a.m. with a work session to follow.
Director of Governmental Relations
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Students enrolled in Alabama’s K-12 public schools should expect to take standardized assessments this academic year, State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey
told State Board of Education members during Thursday’s work session. Mackey said he received a letter from U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos
saying she does not anticipate waiving federal assessments for this school year. The news is not a surprise. Last month, Mackey told the board he wanted
to administer state assessments to gauge student progress and to set baseline data for the new state test. Mackey added that no decisions have been
made about whether this year’s assessments will be used for state accountability purposes for either the state report card or failing school designation
in the Alabama Accountability Act.
Additionally, ALSDE staff updated the board on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) test which will be administered in randomly selected schools from January to March 2021. The computer-based math and reading assessments will be administered to approximately 1,700 fourth- and eighth-grade students attending brick-and-mortar schools. A total of 89 schools representing 54 school systems across 40 counties will participate, a significant reduction from the pre-pandemic number of 175 schools. Officials noted the smaller number does increase the standard of error and translates to fewer subgroup populations participating in the assessment. ALSDE staff said preparations are being made through ARI and AMSTI to ensure the NAEP framework aligns with the state courses of study.
Preview: FY22 Budget Request
Deputy Director of Finance Andy Craig and Mackey outlined a $411 million increase being requested in the FY22 ETF budget proposal which must be voted on at the board’s October meeting and submitted to Gov. Kay Ivey by Nov. 1. While the funding request overlaps with the boards’ vision and strategic plan priorities, Mackey assured board members changes can be made moving forward, especially because of the many unknown circumstances related to COVID-19. Board members emphasized that local school systems must have state funding support for any mandated programs.
Mackey said he met with each ALSDE section to discuss budget needs and justify requests. Craig explained the requested $411 million increase is realistic because the legislature held back revenue in prior fiscal years and state revenue has grown at four percent. Mackey said the legislature will consider whether pay raises are on the table as well as revisit the proposal to improve Tier II teacher retirement benefits.
Highlights include increases for:
Survey: Parents Weigh in on In-Person School
Mackey presented results from a parent survey conducted by The University of Alabama to gauge parent perceptions about remote and blended learning options as well as in-person schooling this fall. Key survey takeaways include:
New CTE Tools Help Inform Data-Based Decisions
CTE Director Dr. Jim Hull presented an update about new tools available to help make data-driven decisions about career tech education programs. The project supports the needs of a changing workforce that requires the identification of future job areas. A new data management tool for the workforce learning system will be able to collect student experiences across the state and document hours worked, certifications earned and available opportunities. Some 10,000 students worked four million hours and earned roughly $33 million, even amid last spring’s COVID-19 interruption. A second heat mapping tool will provide an interactive map to depict projected trends for industries and occupations. The tool will identify high-demand, high-wage jobs and provide students with timely information as they make career choices. An analytical tool, Jobs EQ, details the skills, preparation time, credentials and experience needed for specific occupations.
There currently are 20 competitive grants available totaling $25 million each for school systems to either begin or expand CTE programs. The criteria for the grants include socioeconomic need, high-demand, high-wage jobs and the merit of the grant application.
In Other News
Office of Teaching & Learning Director Dr. Jayne Meyer said the 2020 College of Education Report Cards are now available for the 26 programs currently approved by the State Board of Education. For the first time, the report cards were compiled electronically in response to a push for the department to modernize the process.
ALSDE staff gave a presentation demonstrating significant improvement in graduation rates, chronic absenteeism and college and career readiness in Montgomery Public Schools (MPS), which has been under state intervention since early 2017. MPS Superintendent Dr. Ann Roy Moore, Board President Clare Weil and Board Vice President Claudia Mitchell attended the work session and addressed the board, saying they were excited about the positive changes. Board members applauded the progress and asked questions about the system’s upcoming tax referendum to raise $30-$33 million in local funds to invest in its schools. The SBOE will vote at its October meeting on whether to release MPS from state intervention.
Also Thursday, the SBOE approved two new members to serve on the Alabama Charter School Commission: former State Senator Dick Brewbaker, who served as chair of the Senate Education Committee, and Dr. Rebecca Lee, a veteran educator who served as a deputy superintendent in Jefferson County Schools and worked at the ALSDE.
Next SBOE Meeting & Work Session
The next State Board of Education meeting will take place October 8 at 10 a.m. in Montgomery, with a work session to follow.
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Read the August 2020 issue of Court Report, which includes cases involving immunity, discrimination, the First Amendment and more. Click the case names to read the complete opinions. This newsletter is an AASB/ACSBA member benefit.
- Jayne Harrell Williams
Jayne is General Counsel &
Director of Legal Advocacy for the
Alabama Association of School Boards
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District Director Nominations
AASB currently is holding director elections for Districts 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9. Nomination forms were due to AASB's executive director by Sept. 1 for Districts 1, 5, 7 and 9. The deadline for District 3 was extended due to no nominations being received for that district by the Sept. 1 deadline.
District directors serve two-year terms and can serve two, complete terms.
To date, the following nomination forms have been received:
Ballots listing eligible nominees will be mailed to district members by Oct. 1. Each board within a district gets one vote. The board
president will certify that action was taken at a board meeting to choose a candidate, and the ballot must be returned to AASB by Oct. 31. If only one person is nominated, he or she automatically becomes district director.
AASB is seeking nominations for AASB President-Elect. The President-Elect will serve a one-year term. According to AASB's bylaws, candidates for election to an elective office must have served on the AASB Board of Director; however, such service need not be consecutive to the individual's candidacy for or term of elective office.
President-Elect self-nomination forms have been mailed to members and are due to AASB's executive director on or before Sept. 1. Questions can be directed to AASB Executive Director Sally Smith at 334-277-9700 or to Nominating Committee Chair and AASB Immediate Past President James Woosley at 251-281-8539.
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The State Board of Education voted in new officers at its annual meeting Tuesday, unanimously electing Jackie Ziegler (District 1) as vice president and Dr. Yvette Richardson (District 4) as president pro tem.
Board action also included approval of the appointment of Dr. Tracye Strichik as director of the Alabama Reading Initiative. Strichik, who most recently served as deputy director of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education, replaces recently retired ARI director, Karen Porter.
State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey reported the ALSDE has sent formal letters to colleges of education requesting validation that their programs meet requirements of the Alabama Literacy Act. The move follows a request by board members at last month's meeting for the ALSDE to ensure compliance with the law as part of its process to approve college of education programs. The ALSDE has given colleges a 12-month timeframe to comply.
Work Session: Lawmakers Present Health-Focused Reopening Plan
A marathon work session following Tuesday's meeting was devoted exclusively to discussion of the ALSDE's Roadmap for Reopening Schools, which was released late last month. The plan provides suggested guidance but largely leaves key decisions such as mandating facial coverings to each local school system.
While many -- but not all -- of Alabama's school systems have released their reopening plans in recent weeks, board members seemed surprised to learn these plans are not being submitted to the ALSDE. When asked, department officials were unable to verify how many or which systems have finalized reopening plans. Mackey told the board the ALSDE will now make that request.
Dr. Tommie Stewart (District 5) said many are frightened at the prospect of reopening schools amid rising COVID-19 cases and are looking to the state for leadership. She asked what major directives the state can provide to school systems as they look for answers about how best to reopen schools safely for students and staff.
Gov. Kay Ivey, who serves SBOE president by virtue of her office, invited Senate Health Committee Chairman Jim McClendon, Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, Senate Rules Chairman Jabo Waggoner and a spokesperson from the Alabama Association of School Nurses to present their own proposal for reopening schools. Titled Safely Opening Schools (S.O.S.) , the $150 million plan would include hiring 300 school nurses, technology to provide thermal scanning devices for students and staff, testing for flu and COVID-19 and a nurse's station in each K-12 school, all paid for up front from the state's $1.8 billion in federal CARES Act funding. Those funds must be spent by Dec. 31, 2020.
The 480-square-foot nurses' stations, which would take an estimated six to eight weeks to build, were described as a key part of the proposal. They would provide each school with a dedicated area for nurses to isolate sick students behind a glass divider so other students could be seen without risk of exposure. Fewer than 10 percent of Alabama's schools currently have isolated spaces, and many school nurse rooms lack running water, a basic feature essential for the hand-washing required to reduce transmission of COVID-19 and other contagious illnesses. McClendon said the stations would be an investment that remains long after the pandemic passes. He added that it will be the legislature’s responsibility to fund school nurses going forward in the education budget.
Singleton, who has been a vocal critic of the ALSDE's Roadmap plan for what he says is a lack of specific health guidance and resources to help all school
systems safely reopen, said the S.O.S. plan would ensure equity for all school systems regardless of local resources. He said the plan is bipartisan
and provides a uniform way to minimize risk for all children in every school. He urged the state to take the lead by providing these health resources
and not place the responsibility solely on the shoulders of local school systems, some of which have very little access to resources or even healthcare
expertise in their communities. Board members asked many questions regarding availability of nurses to hire, expanding nurse duties and building code
COVID-19 testing also was discussed as part of the S.O.S. plan. Waggoner said Alabama's higher education institutions already are providing testing for their students and asked why a similar request isn’t being made for K-12. Gov. Ivey made clear that although she supports the thermal imaging devices, she was not endorsing testing in schools. She explained that part of her rationale for inviting the lawmakers to discuss the S.O.S. plan was to allow the SBOE to have the benefit of all information as they make their requests for additional federal funds.
At issue is access to the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF). The Coronavirus Relief Fund provides $1.8 billion in federal funding to Alabama to broadly address costs dealing with the pandemic. If not spent by December 31, 2020, the funds must be returned. These funds were subject to a tug-of-war between the legislature and governor in the state’s General Fund budget. An executive amendment finally settled the matter, leaving the funds in the governor’s authority with an outline of spending categories.
The ALSDE already had submitted its request for funding to include digital devices and internet connection at $288 million ($400 per student), $100 million for internet-enabled devices and a $72 million request ($50,000 per school) to pay for healthcare supports including upgrades to nursing facilities, extra pay for extended nurse hours or hiring additional nurses. The funds would be distributed as grants to school systems.
Gov. Ivey directed the ALSDE to revisit its funding request, review items in the S.O.S. proposal and identify what will best address needs for reopening schools. Ivey said the funds are available now, and the department's funding request should be based on all the information available. She asked Mackey to submit an updated funding request in writing by Friday, July 17.
Department Staff Update SBOE on COVID-19 Response
ALSDE staff presented highlights of the department’s responses to the COVID-19 crisis across multiple areas (view PowerPoint). Among them:
The board also briefly discussed progress on developing an evaluation instrument for the superintendent. Board member Stephanie Bell (District 3) said she wanted to ensure the discussion is transparent as they consider the components of the evaluation.
With so many issues to be addressed as schools prepare to reopen, the board will consider having a called work session prior to its next regular meeting on Aug. 13.
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Local school systems across the nation are in the midst of finalizing school reopening plans for the upcoming school year. School leaders face a daunting task that involves rapidly changing health and safety data from both federal, state and local entities, sometimes conflicting plans of action for addressing student learning and practical applications, and a cloud of uncertainty about what lies ahead.
The U.S. Department of Education is strongly urging that schools fully reopen under the threat of loss of federal funding for those that remain closed, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has issued safety and health considerations that many believe are largely impractical when translated to the reality of classrooms. A lack of funding and resources only complicates school systems' ability to implement potential solutions.
The Alabama Department of Education recently issued its Roadmap to Reopening, which provides suggested guidance but leaves decisions to each local school system (view AL.com's list of reopening plans for Alabama's local school systems). Already, revisions to Alabama's state-level plan are underway, at the request of Gov. Kay Ivey.
One common thread among all plans is that they are only as good as the information available at that time. Building in contingencies for changes and a clear plan to handle future outbreaks among students, staff and the community will be vital for all school systems. Local school officials are tasked with setting the stage and tone as schools reopen amid enormous challenges. Clearly communicating reopening plans to continue student learning and provide essential services while keeping school communities safe is paramount.
State Reopening Plans
As a resource for local school leaders, AASB has compiled a list of plans for all 50 states and the District of Columbia (see chart below). The plans offer various approaches to reopening. For example:
Mississippi: Considerations for Reopening Mississippi Schools
South Carolina: Dedication to Education: Reopening Schools
Georgia’s Path to Recovery for K-12 Schools
|Montana||Nebraska||Nevada||New Hampshire||New Jersey|
|New Mexico||New York||North Carolina||North Dakota||Ohio|
|Oklahoma||Oregon||Pennsylvania||Rhode Island||South Carolina|
|District of Columbia|
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AASB’s mission is to develop excellent school board leaders through quality training, advocacy, and services. AASB’s more than 900 members of boards of education represent 138 local boards of education and other governing boards. AASB offers various levels and types of membership.
Advocacy is more than supporting a position; it's also about speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Alabama's school boards are expected to use their voice to translate for state policymakers the diverse needs and challenges of public education in their communities.
Providing school board leaders quality training is a key tenet of the Alabama Association of School Boards' mission statement. AASB offers coursework throughout the year in face-to-face sessions and 24 hours a day through the School Board U leadership development portal.
By pooling resources through its membership, the Alabama Association of School Boards provides services which one school board could not economically provide alone. Our services range from publications and strategic planning to policy analysis, risk management and evaluations.