Alabama’s teachers can expect widespread access to COVID-19 vaccines by early March, State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey told the State Board of Education
at its work session Thursday.
While the first phase of vaccinations includes frontline health care workers and long-term care residents, the second phase will prioritize the availability
of vaccines for teachers and other school employees after individuals ages 75 and older and essential workers (firefighters and police).
Some school systems already have begun vaccinating teachers, including Marion and Tallapoosa Counties which have provided vaccines for every teacher. Mackey
said he hopes teachers in all school systems will take advantage of the vaccine as part of the state’s effort to keep school personnel safe and reduce
risk of infection. In some school systems, less than 50 percent of teachers have expressed interest in being vaccinated, a figure reflected by other
groups eligible for the vaccine. Alabama currently lags the rest of the nation in percentage of citizens vaccinated to date. View Montgomery Advertiser
article: State Superintendent Eric Mackey hopeful teachers can receive vaccine in late February.
More COVID-19 related funding is headed to schools as part of a second CARES Act passed by Congress last month. Of Alabama's $899 million Elementary and
Secondary School Education Relief Fund (ESSER) award, $810 million will flow directly to local schools, roughly four times the amount schools received
in the first CARES Act. The ALSDE may retain up to 10 percent, or $89 million, to fund state priorities.
Mackey said those priorities are being discussed and may include literacy supports, additional funding for teacher LETRS training and professional development
for early math. The use of funds is expanded from the first CARES Act package and may include addressing learning loss and COVID-related facility repairs
and improvements, including improvements for indoor air quality. Mackey notes local systems may not use the federal funds for teacher bonuses; however,
the funds may be used to pay salaries for extending teacher contract days. The CARES 2 package also included $67 million in the Governors Emergency
Education Relief (GEER) fund. This time, $21.5 million is provided for public schools, with $45.5 million allowable to non-public schools.
Also related to school funding, a Teacher Stabilization Proposal is being developed by the ALSDE to address student enrollment losses. Mackey said he is
working with legislators on a formula that would hold school systems harmless for the drop in Average Daily Membership (ADM) and its impact on state
funding. View PowerPoint.
The ALSDE is preparing to submit amendments to its ESSA plan. Originally submitted in 2017, the initial ESSA plan is being re-examined by staff to better address current needs. For example, because
state assessments were not administered in 2020, the state may change how it identifies schools needing support. Amendments to the plan address the
Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Program (ACAP), the new state assessment program; changes to the Career and College Ready guidelines; a waiver to
address the pandemic’s impact; an update on measuring teacher effectiveness; and changes to align the federal plan to the state plan. The presidential
transition makes the process seeking amendments challenging. The ALSDE is working with U.S. Department of Education staff from the outgoing administration
as well as president-elect Joe Biden’s transition team. State board approval is not required to submit the amendment; however, the board discussed
voting on a resolution to demonstrate its support.
At its next meeting, the board will vote to make completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) a graduation requirement. Several board
members expressed concern that the requirement is invasive for families who do not want to share financial information; however, Gov. Kay Ivey voiced
support for the requirement which provides an opt-out for students. Louisiana, Texas and Illinois recently adopted FASFA completion as a graduation
requirement. While those states enacted legislation implementing this graduation requirement, Ivey emphasized the state board is the constitutional
entity empowered to adopt graduation requirements for Alabama’s students. According to the ALSDE, the goal is to allow students, many of whom may otherwise
think college is unaffordable, to receive the means to pursue higher education. Mackey said millions of federal dollars are left on the table because
students are not aware of their eligibility for aid. The FASFA has long been known as a difficult process for students and families to complete; however,
Congress revised the form in the latest CARES Act, trimming it from 108 questions to 36. The effort was completed to simplify the forms and incentivize
students and parents to complete the process. Individuals are able to upload tax information directly to the FASFA application. When board members
mentioned concerns about data privacy, ALSDE staff said the department and schools have no access to the private financial information.
The board voted to approve the textbooks recommended for adoption by the state’s mathematics textbook committee, with board members Stephanie Bell and
Jackie Ziegler voting no and Wayne Reynolds abstaining. The recommendation process was delayed last month due to robust discussion and concerns expressed
by board members, who called for a more thorough vetting and insisted the list, from which local school boards select textbooks, should only include
high-quality material. The discussion resulted in textbook committee members going back to apply a new rubric to evaluate the textbooks. The additional
information will be provided to local school boards. Board members asked the ALSDE to seek legislation to change the law that has restricted the state
textbook selection process to the detriment of local schools.
In other work session news, staff updated the board on proposed changes to the administrative code regarding Specialized Treatment Centers.
Thursday's meeting was the last for two board members completing their terms. Jeff Newman (District 7) began his state board service in 2013, and Dr. Tommie
Stewart (District 5) was appointed in January 2020 to serve the remainder of the term for the late Ella Bell. Neither sought re-election. The board
recognized each for their service and adopted commendatory resolutions.
The next SBOE meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 11 at 10 a.m., with a work session to follow.
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Read the December 2020 issue of Court Report, which includes cases involving contract principals, sexual harassment, transgender students 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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The Alabama Association of School Boards honored recipients of the 2020 All-State School Board Award during the annual AASB Convention held Dec. 3-5 at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham - The Wynfrey Hotel. Honorees were recognized during a special Awards Breakfast held Saturday, Dec. 5.
The All-State School Board Award is AASB's highest honor. The award commends up to five past or present school board members across the state who have exhibited exemplary boardmanship. Learn more about this year's All-State School Board Award recipients:
Madison City School Board, 2011-2020
Eufaula City School Board, 1992-2020
Anniston City School Board, 2016-present
Hale County School Board, 2002-2020
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Several new and returning members of the Alabama Association of School Boards Board of Directors were installed at the close of the 2020 AASB Annual Convention on Dec. 5 in Birmingham.
Baldwin County school board member Shannon Cauley, who previously served as District 1 Director and as President-Elect, is now president of the 15-member AASB Board of Directors. She will serve a one-year term at the helm of an association that serves more than 800 school board members and 144 boards of education. Those school boards provide leadership that impacts the lives of nearly 750,000 schoolchildren.
Cauley steps into the position most recently held by Lanett school board president Gwen Harris-Brooks, who will remain on the board as its Immediate Past President.
Lauderdale County School Board President Ronnie Owens, who most recently served as AASB District 8 Director, was installed as President-Elect.
AASB also welcomes Leslie Weaver-Martin of the Chickasaw school board to its Board of Directors as the new District 1 Director. AASB has nine districts representing geographical areas of the state. District 1 includes the Baldwin County, Brewton, Chickasaw, Clarke County, Conecuh County, Escambia County, Gulf Shores, Mobile County, Monroe County, Saraland, Satsuma, Thomasville and Washington County school boards as well as the Alabama School of Math & Science.
Rev. Russell Clausell, president of the Geneva City school board, was installed as the new District 3 Director. He was elected by school boards in District 3 to replace Dr. Greg Price of Pike County, who served two terms, the maximum allowed under the AASB bylaws. District 3 includes the Andalusia, Barbour County, Coffee County, Covington County, Crenshaw County, Dale County, Daleville, Dothan, Elba, Enterprise, Eufaula, Geneva City, Geneva County, Henry County, Houston County, Opp, Ozark, Pike County and Troy school boards.
AASB also welcomed back District 5 Director Renna Soles Scott of the Bessemer school board, District 7 Director Brad Ingle of the Walker County school board and District 9 Director Beth Wilder of the Huntsville school board. All were re-elected to serve second terms on the Board of Directors.
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State Board of Education members insisted during Thursday’s work session the state continue working to ensure its mathematics textbook selection process better serves local school systems. Board members stressed that providing school personnel with clear, accurate information to help select the best quality mathematics instructional materials is paramount.
Board members have raised objections during recent meetings to a state list that currently includes textbooks scored with “weak alignment” to state standards.
Board Vice President Jackie Ziegler (District 1) said local school systems should be assured that any textbook on an approved state list is of the
highest quality. Months of discussions resulted in a request for a revised and expanded scoring rubric and timeline, requiring the Math Textbook Committee
to regroup last month to apply the more robust rubric.
The board also has expressed frustration that the rubric scores are not made available to local school systems before vendor exhibits market their products.
When ALSDE staff said detailed scores won’t be released until after the board votes in January and state contracts are completed, board members said
vendor exhibitions should be postponed until school systems have full information. ALSDE staff said the delay would require vendors to rebook events,
perhaps with penalties. Stephanie Bell (District 3) said vendor inconvenience is not their concern.
School systems want to select, order and have the textbooks in place to begin the 2021 school year. The board asked the ALSDE to work quickly after the January vote to approve the textbook list to facilitate state contracts and enable the rubric to be shared. The board also requested the department seek legislation to change the process to avoid such a conflict in the future.
FAFSA Completion Debated as Graduation Requirement
Board members also debated during the work session whether to require students to complete the Free Application for Student Federal Aid (FASFA) as a high
school graduation requirement. The FASFA application is required for a student to receive federal financial aid as well as aid from the state, college
and other organizations.
State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey said the governor requested the discussion because Alabama students are leaving significant federal dollars in college
aid on the table.
The FASFA application requires family income details, and not every student seeks college entry. Dr. Wayne Reynolds (District 8) and Stephanie Bell (District
3) opposed a mandate, citing privacy and liberty concerns. Other board members, however, said students who otherwise don’t realize they have access
to college funding would greatly benefit.
Three states have adopted FASFA as a graduation requirement, and many others are considering it after reports that students are more likely to attend college
if they complete the FASFA.
As part of the board’s legal update, Mackey read the names of four local school board members cited as being in violation of the School Board Improvement
Governance Act: Thomas Barnes, Colbert County; Joe Calvin, Tuscaloosa County; Charles Douthit, Homewood; and John Ponder, Talladega County.
The Act mandates that Alabama’s public school board members complete a minimum number of annual training hours. The law requires the names of non-compliers
be read and entered into the SBOE board minutes. Mackey said despite multiple letters and contact attempts, the four did not respond or comply with
the training requirement.
Tracie West (District 2), a former Auburn City local school board member, said she strongly supports the training all school board members complete and
asked what further action might be taken. Mackey said local boards and the SBOE both can censure a member, and individuals could be disqualified from
re-election or re-appointment. Mackey reminded the board that prior to last year’s Legislative Session being cut short due to COVID-19, he worked with
AASB on 2020 legislation, the Building Excellent School Board Teams (B.E.S.T. Act). The bill aims to strengthen the School Board Governance Act by
providing clarity and stronger enforcement mechanisms.
COVID-19 Enrollment Dip
Mackey reported nearly 10,000 fewer students enrolled in public schools this fall. The number of students enrolled 20 days after Labor Day is used to determine
Average Daily Membership (ADM), an essential funding component for the state Foundation Program. Because the pandemic-related enrollment decline would
drastically hurt next year’s school funding, Mackey said work is underway with the governor and legislative leaders to hold systems harmless.
Mackey also discussed strategies to address the related student instructional crisis and learning loss. Summer school and before- and after-school tutoring
programs are planned. The recent surge in COVID-19 cases means more school systems are holding classes remotely, and some are delaying in-person instruction
until January. Schools closures are often happening when staff are quarantined, and schools are left without enough available adults to keep the doors
In an update about the Alabama Literacy Act, Mackey acknowledged confusion about the Act’s status, clarifying that the law went into effect in 2019, and
implementation is indeed underway. He explained the third-grade retention component for students not reading at grade level will take effect during
the 2021-22 school year.
Mackey noted the first administration of the new state assessment will be in spring 2021, and baseline cut scores will be set in spring 2022. He acknowledged
those scores are likely to begin lower due to the impact of the pandemic.
Dr. Cynthia McCarty (District 6) said superintendents in her district found redundancies in reporting requirements and inconsistent deadlines in the implementation
of the Literacy Act. She added that her constituents have expressed the need for clarity regarding systems the ALSDE is implementing to meet the law’s
Graduation, CCR Rates Soon to be Released
Mackey also reported the 2019 graduation rates and college and career ready rates (CCR) have been compiled, and a PARCA analysis of the results should
be available in a few weeks. He said both the graduation rate and CCR rates reached an all-time high.
In other news, ALSDE staff provided an update on recommendations outlined in PCG’s operational study of the department, noting that progress has been slowed by the pandemic.
Next SBOE Meeting
The next State Board of Education meeting will take place in Montgomery Thursday, January 14, 2021, with a work session to follow.
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A discussion of critical K-12 issues took center stage at Thursday’s State Board of Education meeting and work session. State Superintendent of Education Dr. Eric Mackey updated board members about student enrollment, budgets, state assessments and the continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on schools.
To date, public school enrollment in the state has dropped by 5,000 students for the school year. Mackey said he cannot predict whether students now being homeschooled or enrolled in private school will re-enter public schools next fall. Kindergarten suffered the largest drop in enrollment, and because Alabama law does not require mandatory kindergarten, parents may choose to enroll their child in either kindergarten or first grade next year.
The numbers and unknowns are problematic because school funding is based on student enrollment or average daily membership (ADM). The number of students tallied in the first 20 school days following Labor Day determines funding amounts, including how many teacher units a school earns for each grade for the following school year. The potential inaccuracies and adverse consequences spurred the ALSDE to work on a formula to hold school systems harmless from enrollment losses this year. That formula would be proposed to the legislature which will begin building the FY22 budget in February.
Mackey said the Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget is projected to have three percent growth, enough to cover increases proposed in the SBOE’s budget request. Still, he warned board members that the legislature could opt to budget conservatively given current economic uncertainty.
Assessment, Accountability Concerns
The U.S. Department of Education has made clear it will not issue waivers for student assessments in 2021 as it did for 2020, but Mackey acknowledged an incoming Biden administration could issue revised rules. While the state report card covers Alabama’s compliance with the federal accountability requirement, state-level accountability laws are a different matter. The Alabama Accountability Act uses the state assessment to identify the bottom performing six percent of schools as “failing schools” and allows students attending those schools to apply for scholarships funded by tax credits. Another law identifies low-performing schools to receive state action for school improvement. Complicating matters this year is a delay in implementation of Alabama’s new statewide assessment, which was slated to be administered in 2020 but postponed to spring 2021 due to the health crisis.
School and state leaders are concerned about using the baseline data for state accountability purposes and question the assessment’s validity for several reasons:
Board members urged the ALSDE to initiate discussion with legislators to waive accountability measures for the current school year.
As for school closures, Mackey said there is no plan for a statewide shutdown of schools from COVID-19 cases, explaining that infection rates differ across the state. He said he expects rolling school closures to continue on a case-by-case basis. The greatest factor forcing schools to close is lack of available substitute teachers. When educators must quarantine due to exposure or positive test results, schools simply may not have enough adults to open school. Alternatives are limited because of required social distancing. Mackey said with the holiday and winter season approaching, the situation likely will get worse before it gets better. He added that the ALSDE itself had a significant surge in employees testing positive, doubling in the last two weeks and requiring an entire section to quarantine.
Math Textbook Recommendations
SBOE members requested adoption of the mathematics textbook recommendations be removed from the November board agenda after concerns were raised at last month’s work session. Board members objected to approving textbooks rated “weak” and questioned the value of approving every textbook on the list after committee members invested significant time to review textbook alignment with state standards. Additionally, members questioned why the ratings and comments about textbooks are not provided to help local systems make their selections.
Jeff Newman (District 7) summarized board members’ unease, saying when he served as a local school superintendent, if the state provided a list of approved textbooks, he assumed those textbooks met standards. The news that some of the textbooks do not fully align to state standards triggered board members to say only strong materials should be approved, but math teachers and coaches who serve on the committee said there are wrinkles in that approach.
Committee members explained no single math textbook is perfectly aligned, and teachers must use supplementary materials. They urged that an approved textbook list be provided as soon as possible because local teachers must prepare for the new mathematics curriculum.
The lengthy discussion highlighted board members’ desire for the state to provide leadership so local educators can expect high-quality direction and materials for teaching and learning. Deputy State Superintendent Dr. Daniel Boyd presented a revised rubric by which the committee could rate textbooks. The original scoring rubric included alignment to the state’s math course of study and to NAEP standards as well as comments for specified books. The revised rubric adds comments for all books, supplemental information and scoring for rigor and usability of written material and coherence and usability of digital material.
In the revised timeline, the math textbook committee would reconvene in late November and finalize revised recommendations in December. The SBOE would adopt the proposal in January 2021, and materials would be disseminated to local school systems in February. Local systems then could complete their textbook adoption processes and purchase textbook materials in April.
ALSDE staff presented an AMSTI update that included guidelines, industry best practices, a plan for regional math coaches and an intentional focus on materials housed in warehouses for distribution. AMSTI recruited current teachers to serve as “Teachers in Residence” (TIR) and serve as math coaches at the school level. The TIRs are mentored by 26 regional AMSTI math specialists.
School Board Governance Improvement Act Compliance Report
Mackey informed the board that he will present the year-end report for the School Board Governance Improvement Act at the December board meeting. Six local board members have not completed the state-mandated training requirement for 2019-20, despite letters from the state superintendent and AASB efforts. Unless these individuals quickly comply, their names will be publicly reported as being in violation of the law.
Next State BOE Meeting
The next SBOE meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 10 at 10 a.m., with a work session to follow.
Director of Governmental Relations
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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.
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