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Board Work Session Focuses on ESSA Plan, ALSDE Budget



Board Work Session Focuses on ESSA Plan, ALSDE Budget


The State Board of Education held a special-called work session Wednesday to discuss the state's draft plan for the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the ALSDE budget.

The board halted its plan to also hold a special-called meeting Wednesday to discuss State Superintendent Michael Sentance’s contract and other personnel items after Gov. Kay Ivey’s legal counsel challenged the meeting’s legality in a letter last week. Some board members questioned the letter’s timing, and despite being advised by the board’s attorneys that the meeting, like all previously special-called meetings, was legal, board members said the decision to cancel was made to avoid having any meeting actions potentially tied up in court challenges. Instead, the board postponed those agenda items until its next regular meeting in September.

Much of the work session was devoted to a review of the state's ESSA proposal, which has sparked concern among education advocates and groups who say the plan lacks specificity. Organizations including AASB, A+ Partnership, Alabama Education Association (AEA), Business Education Alliance (BEA), Council for Leaders of Alabama Schools (CLAS) and School Superintendents of Alabama (SSA) recently signed a joint letter urging the board to reject the current proposal until it could reflect input and recommendations from committees, work groups and task forces. Individual organizations, including AASB, also followed up with letters detailing specific concerns.

An updated proposal released prior to the work session did reflect some changes to address the various concerns. Sentance and Assistant State Superintendent Tony Thacker explained the lack of detail in the plan was a purposeful approach to answer only those questions required by the current federal ESSA template, which changed under the new presidential administration. Sentance said a minimalist approach provides flexibility and could prevent the need for a future waiver. 

Several board members said the state’s long-term goals should have more prominence in the ESSA plan. The board also requested that the College and Career Ready (CCR) indicators for high school graduates be put back in the ESSA plan. Sentance explained the indicators were removed in response to feedback from the U.S. Department of Education; however, the board insisted the criteria be included.

Other items subject to further discussion include English language proficiency and suggested growth targets, the weighting for academic achievement for schools and school systems, identifying and releasing schools from targeted support and intervention, and supporting excellent instruction and leadership. The board stressed the need to match funding and resources with the plan’s goals and emphasized the need for quality professional development and appropriate delivery models.

In a discussion about accountability, board members said the selection of a new state assessment will be a priority. Dr. Cynthia McCarty (District 6) said board members received a great deal of feedback about assessments and need to be involved in the process. She requested that state committees and work groups report their recommendations to the board before a Request for Bids is issued.

The work session closed with a discussion of the current ALSDE budget. In response to board members’ concerns about the bottom line reflecting an $8 million deficit, ALSDE staff explained the budget will change because of the timing in the year and because not all funds have been spent or assigned. Sentance said the budget reflects reorganization and reassignment of items to different cost centers. When board members questioned whether the budget reflects the state’s priorities, Sentance explained discussions about what is and is not working have not yet happened.

Unfilled positions, salary adjustments and state costs for the Montgomery County Public Schools Intervention also were discussed. Deputy State Superintendent Andy Craig said some line items are dedicated for personnel with both the state budget and federal monies, and those funds would be at risk if not used. Board members said their planned meeting agenda had included lifting the hiring freeze for such positions, but the action would have to wait until the next regular meeting, which will be held in Montgomery on Sept. 14 at 10 a.m., followed by an 11 a.m. work session.