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ON-2021-09-10 SBOE Recap

COVID Issues, Assessment Results and Budget Take Center Stage at SBOE Meeting, Work Session


ON-2021-09-10 SBOE Recap

Alabama’s K-12 schools are expected to see more than 10,000 new COVID-19 cases this week, eclipsing the highest weekly total of roughly 4,000 cases recorded at the height of the pandemic last year, State Superintendent of Education Dr. Eric Mackey said during Thursday’s State Board of Education meeting. Mackey told the board the Alabama Department of Public Health is providing $7 million in federal COVID relief dollars to help ensure adequate staffing of school nurses.

As part of discussion at the board work session, Mackey told the board he believes vaccinations are the only way to overcome the pandemic long term.

“I’m struggling to understand how we have adults in our schools that are still not vaccinated,” Mackey said.

Dr. Cynthia McCarty (District 6) asked if PEEHIP (public education employees health insurance program) has discussed raising health insurance premiums for unvaccinated teachers.

Mackey, who serves on the PEEHIP board, said much like what is in place for tobacco users, such an action might serve as an incentive for vaccinations; however, Alabama’s vaccine passport law prohibits treating vaccinated and unvaccinated people differently.

Responding to a question about student vaccinations, Mackey said vaccination clinics are being held in schools in conjunction with the ADPH. Although state law stipulates a minor 14 years of age or older may give consent for medical services (Code of Alabama, Section 22-8-4), the ADPH said it will not administer the COVID-19 vaccine to any student without parental consent.

Dr. Tonya Chestnut (District 5) asked how the ALSDE can better support school systems when it comes to masking and other related issues. She expressed to Mackey and fellow board members that teachers and schools believe the state’s hands-off approach is not helpful.

“There should be some common ground across the state,” Chestnut said.

According to information being tracked by the Alabama Education Lab, most Alabama school systems have implemented mask mandates, although some expired after Labor Day and some are set to expire next month.

Mackey told the board he does not have the legal authority to unilaterally mandate masks, but he has publicly stressed the importance of both masking and vaccinations. (Editor’s note: state law does permit the State Board of Education to require masks in K-12 schools.)

Board Pro Tem Dr. Wayne Reynolds (District 8) said there will be a bill in the Alabama Legislature that, if passed, would ban requiring masks at schools. Mackey said he does not support taking that decision away from local school boards.

Reynolds proposed the board pass a resolution supporting local boards in retaining control over masking decisions. The board agreed to have a resolution prepared for consideration and discussion at next month’s work session.

Assessment, ACT Data Discussed at Work Session

The work session also included robust discussion about Alabama’s Comprehensive Assessment Program (ACAP) test results from spring 2021, which reflect the pandemic’s negative impact on learning last year. While reading results did not show as steep a decline as expected, math proficiency dropped significantly. (See more details in story.)

The ACAP was administered to students in grades two through eight, with second-grade results being used only to measure growth for third grade. Assistant State Superintendent Angela Martin said the overall ACAP student participation rate was 93%.

As part of the 2020-21 Student Assessment/State Data overview presented to the board, ALSDE staff explained the statewide data is unverified, and systems currently are reviewing data for verification which must be complete by September 21. Mackey told board members district-level results will not be available to the public until September 27. Mackey said the results, while lower than those in 2019, will help determine what work needs to be done going forward.

ACT data for the 2020-21 school year showed an average score of 17.2, a one-point decline from the previous year. While the ACT is given to all Alabama 11th graders, ALSDE staff said fewer students took the ACT last year than the year before. (Note: Many U.S. colleges did not require an ACT/SAT score for their 2020-21 admissions process due to the pandemic.)

The National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) test will be administered in 2022. Grades four and eight will be tested in math and reading. Eighth-grader students will also be tested in either U.S. history or civics. The approximately 189 schools selected to participate in NAEP were notified in August.

FY23 Budget Request

Mackey and Deputy State Superintendent Andy Craig presented the $5.5 billion budget request for the FY 23 Foundation Program. Mackey said the request was formatted to align with the five pillars of the strategic plan: Academic Growth and Achievement; College, Career and Workforce Ready; Safe and Supportive Learning Environment; Highly Effective Educators and Customer Friendly Services. The request includes several line-item increases totaling $545 million over current appropriations for FY22 which begins October 1, 2021.

Other Budget Asks:

  • Special education teacher stipends ($5,000/per teacher) - $68 million
  • Preschool special education - $20 million
  • Gifted education - $10 million
  • Lower funding divisors (adds 3,300 teachers) - $250 million
  • Teacher contract days (3-additional) - $66 million
  • TEAMS Program (Teacher Excellence and Accountability for Math and Science) - $75 million (See TEAMS handout)
  • School nurse program - $60 million

Other Board Meeting News

Working through a brief meeting agenda prior to the board work session, the SBOE approved a new teacher observation tool– the Alabama Teacher Observation Program (ATOP), which is set for full implementation in the fall of 2022.

Governor Kay Ivey, who presided over the meeting by virtue of her office, presented the board with an official proclamation recognizing September as Alabama Workforce Development month, followed by the state board adopting a resolution recognizing the same. Mackey shared that there are over 8,700 Alabama high school students involved in work-based learning at 267 different high schools and career technical education centers throughout the state.

As part of the superintendent’s report, Mackey reminded board members that the ALSDE will recognize students at each meeting, with AASB’s 2021 student video contest winners highlighted this month.

In other news, a vote to select the Lt. Governor’s nominee for the Alabama Public Charter School Commission had to be postponed to next month’s meeting due to a twice-taken tie vote.

Next SBOE Meeting

The next SBOE meeting will take place, Thursday, October 14 at 10 a.m. in Montgomery with a work session to follow.

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