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SBOE Meeting and Work Session Focus on FY22 Budget and COVID-19 Concerns, Funding

09-Oct-2020

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


Next SBOE Meeting
 


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.

 

 

Lissa Tucker
Director of Governmental Relations