The 2015 regular session of the Alabama legislature begins on March 3. If this year is anything like the last few years in the legislature, education reform bills will fly fast and furiously through the halls of the statehouse.
So it’s time to get those tables up so you can keep up with what’s on the agenda.
Scroll to the end of this article for resources to help you get more familiar with the legislative process and how you can let your state legislators know your thoughts on the bills being considered.
All current bills will be housed on the current legislation page. Plans are to update the list at the end of each week.
What Bills Can We Expect to be Introduced?
First and foremost, we know there will be a charter school bill on the table. Exactly what form it takes is anyone’s guess. And the form is crucial….
Emily Schultz, Director of the Alabama Coalition for Public Charter Schools, recently told the Dothan Eagle, “I think having a cap on the number of public charter schools to start with and getting the authorization right – that is whoever has the authority to start a charter school on the local level – is important,” she said. “We want a high level of accountability for charter schools.”
Yes, there will be more on charter schools in another article. For now, be sure to read Brian Lyman’s article in the Montgomery Advertiser. He pulled a lot of good information together.
It is unclear who, if anyone, will sponsor a bill to ask for a raise for teachers. The Alabama Education Association’s Dr. Henry Mabry has proclaimed that to be a must this year.
Adjustments to the donation caps under the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA) are expected, but no one is giving out the details just yet. Awaiting a decision by the Alabama Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the AAA appears to have hindered donations for the 2014 calendar year, which may trigger additional provisions and tweaks of the AAA.
We can probably expect bills dealing with workforce development and bids and health-related issues, as those were bills that almost made it through the process last year.
Unifying Alabama’s Budgets
Another issue that pro-public education advocates are concerned about is whether the legislature will attempt to unify Alabama’s two budgets: the General Fund and the Education Trust Fund (ETF).
While the General Fund is not a topic covered here in any detail, Google “Alabama general fund problem” and a host of worries will jump off the page.
Governor Bentley has now said that taxes must be raised to provide more revenue into the general fund, but no one is yet sure what that mechanism will look like.
SB12 has been prefiled by Senator Paul Sanford (R-Huntsville) and looks to provide a mechanism. That bill creates the “Alabama Recurring Revenue Fund” and would require all recurring revenue to be deposited into that fund where it would then be distributed by the percentage established in the bill to the ETF (78%) and the General Fund (22%).
Figures from the Alabama Legislative Fiscal Office show the average split between the two funds over the past four fiscal years is 77% for the ETF and 23% for the General Fund.
Insiders say there is little chance of actually unifying the two budgets this year, but most folks know to never say never where Alabama elected officials are concerned.
What’s Already Been Prefiled
As of today, the ASC is tracking 12 bills, including Sanford’s.
- Religious expression in schools (HB1)
- the Flexible School Calendar Act (HB5 and SB22)
- the Alabama Ahead Act (SB1), which provides a funding mechanism for districts who choose to participate in moving to electronic textbooks
- Providing grandparents with more rights to visitation to their grandchildren in custody cases (SB3)
- Allowing “winter celebrations” in schools (SB7)
- Strengthening state department of education intervention mechanisms into school districts (SB18)
- Strengthening the Alabama Open Meetings Act (SB21)
- Moving the deadline for a student to turn six years old to the first day of the second semester of first grade (HB21)
- Requiring public schools to teach cursive writing before the end of the third grade (HB23), and
- Deleting “obsolete” portions of the Code of Alabama (HB40)
These bills will be explored in more depth in future coverage, but if you want to read the bill yourself, click on over to the Current Legislation page and click on the link.
And, just to get everyone fired up for the session…..
The ALSDE has put together an extremely informative page, complete with names of members of committees likely to debate education-related bills. Check it out to get caught up quickly.