There are education savings accounts (the bill has been changed to apply only to children with disabilities), a statewide longitudinal data system to capture and track data for students from preschool through when they enter the workforce, the all-things-teachers bill, a.k.a, the PREP Act, the Alabama Ahead Act (which provides funding for wireless infrastructure for schools needing it), widening of the state’s growing virtual school program, and…the Education Trust Fund budget which has yet to be debated by the Senate after its passage in the House.
BirminghamWatch has kept close watch on legislation during this session, so look there for weekly updates.
We’re taking stock of what lawmakers will face upon their return.
What’s on the Table – The Big Stuff
The Education Trust Fund Budget
The full House passed the committee’s version of the Education Trust Fund budget, so nothing new to report there.
The pay raise bill, HB121, calling for a 4% raise for employees making $75,000 or less and a 2% raise for those making more than $75,000, is part of the budget package to be considered.
The Senate Finance and Taxation Committee is scheduled to discuss the budget package when they return from spring break.
Education Savings Accounts – HB84
The education savings account (ESA) bill is pending in the full House. The House Education Policy committee passed a substitute bill nearly three weeks ago, and the Alabama Association of School Boards reports that it is first up on the House calendar upon the legislature’s return from spring break.
Look for more information about ESAs very soon. Here’s what we wrote when the bill was introduced.
The substitute bill narrowed ESA eligibility to only students with disabilities who have current Individual Education Programs (IEPs) after education groups protested the broader scope which included children in foster care and military families and the siblings of students with disabilities.
The bill allows for 1,000 new ESAs to be created each year. More than 82,000 students had IEPs in Alabama’s public schools in the 2014-2015 school year.
The bill calls for the state to deposit 90% of the per student state allocation, estimated at $4,700, according to the fiscal note accompanying the bill.
That $4,700 amount is the lowest dollar amount by far of any of the ESA programs in the country, according to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice web site. Even Mississippi provides $6,500 per school year to educate students with disabilities.
Virginia’s lawmakers recently passed an ESA bill. If passed, Alabama would become the sixth state to embrace ESAs. Arizona was the first, in 2011. Since that time, Florida, Nevada, Tennessee, and Mississippi have created ESAs.
The Alabama Longitudinal Data System (ALDS) Bill – HB125
Gathering and tracking data about our children is nothing new for most states. Alabama is one of only three states not to have any sort of statewide database, with the other 47 states having received initial funding for a statewide longitudinal data system (SLDS) from the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE).
The ALDS would be fully operational by May 30, 2017, and would be the repository for education and workforce data gathered for research and programmatic purposes.
The bill calls for the following data to be placed into the ALDS:
- Education data, specifically student performance on state and national assessments, including, but not limited to, any of the following:
- Course taking and completion.
- Grade point average.
- Degree, diploma, certificate, or credential attainment.
- Demographic data.
- Workforce data, including data related to all of the following:
- Employment status.
- Wage information.
- Geographic location of employment.
- Employer information.
- Field of employment.
No data related to juvenile delinquency, criminal, medical, health or discipline is included in either of those categories.
It also calls for creation of the Office of Education and Workforce Statistics to oversee management and operation of the ALDS.
An advisory board will be created to advise that agency on various issues related to the gathering and use of the data that is collected.
The final sentence of the bill requires the State Board of Education, the Board of Trustees of the Alabama Community College System, and the Alabama Commission on Higher Education to jointly define remediation and the process of remediation to be utilized by December 31, 2016.
Though the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) never sought federal funding to create an SLDS, the Alabama Workforce Council (AWC) recommended creation of an SLDS in early 2015.
Last May, Gov. Robert Bentley issued an Executive Order requiring the pursuit of federal funding for creation of the SLDS.
By June, the ALSDE had submitted a grant request to the USDOE at the behest of Bentley and the AWC.
By September, Alabama learned it was not one of the states awarded funding for the SLDS. Bentley and the AWC affirmed their commitment to creation of the SLDS in spite of losing the grant competition.
Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur) sponsored the bill.
The Senate’s Education and Youth Affairs committee added a couple of amendments to the House version, one of which strips the language calling for any state agency that receives funds to comply with the law. The other amendment, while listed, has not been posted online as of the time of publication.
Expanding the Virtual School Walls
Sen. Dick Brewbaker’s (R-Montgomery) SB229 will change Alabama’s 2015 virtual school law. The Alabama Association of School Boards (AASB) calls SB229 dangerous because it removes current safeguards for full-time virtual school students by allowing for open enrollment regardless of where a student resides.
From the AASB’s Advocate for Schools:
National data is clear that full-time virtual schools have too few safeguards, give little attention to individual students and their student performance results are abysmal. States that allow this type of open-enrollment statewide are failing students. Under these open-enrollment provisions, which SB229 would allow, the virtual schools attract and keep students and their state funding for the initial count, and then local school systems must absorb the student back into the traditional local school when the student doesn’t thrive in the virtual world.
Open enrollment in full-time virtual schools leads to poor educational outcomes, high attrition rates and schools plagued by management ills, according to the 2015 “In The Public Interest” report. States are finding experiences, such as in Georgia, where two online schools graduated 27% of its students compared to the 72% graduation rate from traditional schools (2015 Public Impact/NACSA Study).
In 2015, Alabama lawmakers enacted a virtual school law that provides best practices to hold virtual schools accountable for students through local policy. The current law requires eligibility criteria, performance monitoring, test protocol, guidance and surrounds the student with the local supports critical for a student to succeed in the new virtual learning environment.
A 2015 National Education Policy Center report urged: “Policymakers (should) slow or stop growth in the number of virtual schools and the size of their enrollment until the reasons for their relatively poor performance have been identified and addressed.”
The bill won approval of the Senate and is headed to the House Education Policy committee when the legislature meets next week.
The Alabama Ahead Act Still Alive, Still Fighting for Acceptance
The Alabama Ahead Act, first passed in 2012, has had a lot of starts and stops over the past five years.
The bill has changed greatly from its 2012 incarnation which directed funding to pen-enabled tablets and other devices, to the 2016 version, which first aims to ensure all of Alabama’s schools have appropriate wireless infrastructure.
After the Senate removed language from HB41 giving ownership of the “WIRED” standards-based funding plan to the Alabama Education Technology Association (AETA), Bentley restored the House language in an Executive Amendment, and the House concurred in the Governor’s amendment.
The Senate has not concurred, and the bill has been stalled since March 8.
Senators Jim McClendon (R-Springville) and Gerald Dial (R-Lineville) introduced SB351 on March 15, which again keeps the AETA out of the definition of “WIRED”, but adds the to-be-created Alabama Ahead Oversight Committee to the “WIRED” definition.
The AETA would have one ex officio appointment to the Oversight Committee.
The Senate Education and Youth Affairs committee unanimously approved passage of SB351. It now heads to the full Senate.
HB227 appropriates $12 million to enact HB41. It, too, has stalled at this point, after the Senate removed the AETA’s mention from the bill, and the Governor added AETA back to the bill through Executive Amendment. The House concurred. The Senate has not.
Insiders say that Representatives Chesteen and Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa) are working to negotiate an agreement with Senators McClendon and Dial.
It is unclear why the AETA’s involvement became a point of contention.
The PREP Act – What Happens Next?
No further action has been taken on Sen. Del Marsh’s (R-Anniston) PREP Act, though education blogger Larry Lee wrote that a substitute bill was set to be introduced on the floor of the Senate on Wednesday, March 23.
Lee said legislators were working to gain support of the ALSDE and of Teacher of the Year Jennifer Brown, who has been a vocal opponent of the PREP Act, when State Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice (whose last day as state superintendent is March 31) indicated the ALSDE did not support the current version of the bill nor the substitute that was shared with them.
The AASB points to multiple problems with the bill, including the use of the evaluation in reduction-in-force layoffs and the definition of the student growth model. From the AASB’s Advocate for Schools:
From its highly restrictive definition of a growth model to its unnecessary detailed evaluation process, the PREP bill invites more trouble than offers progress. For example, the bill requires teachers be subject to two observations per school year and prescribes the who, what, when, how, and how long. Those specifics should be left to education officials and never placed in statute. Those details should be deleted. Lawmakers should simply require an evaluation and outline how the evaluation will be linked to earn tenure.
The AASB further stated it could support the tenure reform and incentive provisions, but legislating the actual teacher evaluation process is too rigid and states that have done so are now backtracking.
As the student growth model seems to be causing the most heartburn for educators, we are working to learn more about how the ALSDE planned to measure student growth in its Educator Effectiveness model and how that differs from what the PREP Act proposes. Stay tuned.
As of the time of publication of this article, no committee meetings where bills we are following were being considered had been posted.