The long-anticipated rewrite of Alabama’s tenure and job evaluation law for teachers and school administrators was introduced in the Legislature last week. It would require regular evaluations of teachers and tie part of their performance rating to student growth. But it does not include the controversial proposal to tie teacher bonuses to student test scores, which was in the first draft of the bill.
Also last week, a House committee passed an Education Trust Fund budget that would give up to 4 percent raises to education workers and that includes money to hire 475 more teachers and expand the states pre-K program.
The Legislature is now dealing with more than 40 education-related measures.
BirminghamWatch is tracking state budgets and bills related to BW focus areas, including education and government ethics. This report deals with legislative actions through Thursday, March 3.
Actions taken last week are indicated in bold type. More information can be found about these and other bills on the Legislature’s website.
The House and Senate will be back in session Tuesday, March 8.
The PREP Act (formerly called the RAISE Act)
Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston
Description: The Preparing and Rewarding Educational Professionals bill would rewrite Alabama’s tenure and job evaluation law for teachers and school administrators. It would require annual evaluations for non-tenured teachers and evaluations every other year for tenured teachers, with 25 percent of teacher evaluations based on student growth. Local school boards may determine how to measure the remaining 75 percent of the teacher evaluations, but they must include two classroom observations, student surveys for those teaching third grade and higher and other measures that link job performance with student achievement results.
The bill also would increase the time it takes for teachers to achieve tenure to a minimum of five years, up from the current three years. Teachers would have to score as satisfying expectations or higher for three consecutive years immediately before being granted tenure. If tenured teachers score below expectations or significantly below expectations, they would be evaluated every year. If they earn low scores two years in a row, they could be fired, their tenure could be revoked or they could be required to go through professional development programs that target their weak points.
Other provisions of the bill include:
- Creating incentives for teachers who teach in hard-to-staff areas.
- Creating a mentoring program for first-year teachers.
- Creating a committee of teachers and principals to advise legislators on education policy.
- Appropriating $10 million from the Education Trust Fund to the Legislative Performance Recognition Program, which was created in 2012 but never funded. The fund would reward schools that have achievement results in the top 10 percent of the state or improve their letter grade by one grade.
The Prep Act generally is not receiving a favorable response from the education community, according to an evaluation of the bill by Trisha Powell Crain.
Status: The bill was introduced last week and is pending in the Senate Education and Youth Affairs Committee.
Education Trust Fund
Sponsor: Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa
Description: The House this week is expected to debate a $6.3 billion budget for the Education Trust Fund, an increase of more than $300 million from last year. A House committee last week passed the bill along with a bill to give payraises of up to 4 percent to education workers.
Key elements of the proposed budget include:
- Funding to hire 475 new teachers for seventh through 12th grades. State schools lost about 3,000 teachers between 2008 and 2015.
- $14 million more for the state’s pre-kindergarten program, bringing that total budget to $62 million. The increase would mean about 2,700 four-year-olds could be added to the program, about 25 percent of those who may qualify. Gov. Robert Bentley had proposed a $20 million increase.
- The bill does not include funding specifically for expanding Wi-Fi service in schools.
For more detail on funding in the bill, see Trisha Powell Crain’s analysis of the bill.
Status: Amended, passed the House Ways and Means-Education Committee and sent to House
Education Pay Raises
HB121, HB4, HB206, SB257, SB223
Sponsors: Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa; Rep. Chris Sells, R-Greenville; Rep. Craig Ford, D-Gadsden; Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham
Description: HB121, sponsored by Poole, was amended last week to give public education employees who make less than $75,000 a year 4 percent pay raises and those who make more than that amount 2 percent pay raises. It also would give employees of the two-year college system a four percent raise. Other bills that would give payraises of 3 percent, 4 percent or 5 percent have been introduced but have not been voted on.
Status: HB121 was amended, passed the House Ways and Means-Education Committee and sent to House; other bills pending in the House Ways and Means-Education Committee and the Senate Finance and Taxation-Education Committee.
Shift Revenues From Education to General Fund
Sponsor: Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville
Description: SB130 would shift the revenues from the use tax and insurance premium taxes from the Education Trust Fund to the General Fund. SB129 would make up that money for the first year, 2016-2017, by transferring a total of $181 million from the Education Trust Fund Budget Stabilization Fund and the Education Trust Fund Advancement and Technology Fund to the ETF. Gov. Robert Bentley in his original General Fund budget proposal had proposed the transfers as a way to help fund General Fund agencies, but that language was removed from the budget by the Senate.
Status: Both Bills are pending in the Senate Finance and Taxation-Education Committee.
End Tenure, Change Control in Community Colleges
Sponsors: Rep. Steve McMillan, R-Bay Minette, and Sen. Lee “Trip” Pitman, R-Daphne
Description: This bill would give the Alabama Community College System board of trustees more autonomous control over two-year colleges in the state, so it could run the community colleges much as university boards of trustees do. The bill would change the system, created last year out of the state’s former Postsecondary Education Department, from a government department to a “body corporate.” The bill would give the system’s board power to control where and how funding approved by the Legislature will be spent in the colleges. The bill also would end the job protection of tenure for any two-year-college instructors who have not earned it by the end of this year, giving the board more control over hiring, firing and promotion decisions. The Decatur Daily talked with educators and legislators about the proposal.
Status: Pending in the House Education Policy Committee and the Senate Education and Youth Affairs Committee
School Technology/Alabama Ahead Act
HB41, SB17, SB5, HB227, HB123
Sponsors: Rep. Donnie Chesteen, R-Geneva; Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville; Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville; Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa
Description: At least five bills were introduced to boost technology and Wi-Fi networking in public schools. Three of those would amend the state’s Alabama Ahead Act. HB41 was amended this week and passed the Senate after having previously passed the House. It would specify that ensuring a high-quality Wi-Fi system is available in school classrooms and lunchrooms is the first priority for spending money in the program this year, with remaining funds used to buy mobile digital devices. It also would lift a requirement that schools invest in pen-enabled mobile devices. SB17 addressed spending in the next fiscal year and originally would have spent $75 million to expand Wi-Fi and networking in schools. But the bill has been amended to remove reference to that amount and say money should be used as available for the upgrades. SB5 would appropriate up to $75 million from the Education Trust Fund Budget Stabilization Fund and/or the Education Trust Fund Capital Fund for Wi-Fi upgrades in the current budget year, but that bill hasn’t moved through committee.
Separate from the Alabama Ahead Act, HB227 would transfer $12 million from the Education Trust Fund Advancement and Technology Fund to the Department of Education to be used in the current budget year to expand Wi-Fi and networking in public schools and to invest in technology in schools that already have wireless service. Another bill, HB123, originally would have allocated $15.7 million and specified that the money be used to expand Wi-Fi and networking in public schools. But that bill was amended this week and now would transfer $3.9 million from the Education Trust Fund Advancement and Technology Fund to the K-12 Foundation Program in the current fiscal year to fund “classroom instructional support.” It also includes $5.9 million for the Community College System to spend on equipment and maintenance.
Status: HB41 and HB227 were amended last week and passed by the Senate. The bills will have to go back to the House because of the amendments. SB 17 and SB5 are pending in the Senate Finance and Taxation-Education Committee. HB123 was amended, passed by the House Ways and Means-Education Committee and is pending in the House.
Sponsor: Sen. Rusty Glover, R-Semmes; Rep. Bob Fincher, R-Woodland
Description: These bills would abolish the state’s College and Career Ready Standards, based on Common Core guidelines developed by the National Governors’ Association, and replace them with the standards used by the state before Common Core was implemented.
Status: Pending in the Senate Education and Youth Affairs Committee; pending in the House Education Policy Committee.
Sponsor: Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur
Details: This bill would require students beginning in the 2017-2018 school year to pass a civics test before graduating from high school or obtaining a high school equivalency diploma. The test would be based on the Alabama Social Studies course of study.
Status: Passed by the Senate Education and Youth Affairs Committee and referred to the Senate
Education Savings Accounts
Sponsor: Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton
Details: The bill would allow the parents of certain children, including disabled children, to withdraw their children from public schools and take 90 percent of the state education allocation for their children in an education savings account. That money would then be used on education alternatives, including tuition and fees at other schools or home-schooling expenses. Children eligible for the program include mentally or physically disabled children, children whose parents are on active duty in the military or were killed in action, and foster children who have been adopted or have permanent guardians, along with the siblings of any of these children.
Status: Pending in the House Committee on Education Policy
Sponsor: Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Guntersville
Description: This bill would authorize local boards of education to include released time religious instruction as an elective course for high school students. Students, with their parents’ consent, could go off-campus for religious instruction. They could earn up to one credit for such courses. Students could not be excused from a core curriculum class for religious instruction; no public funds could be spent on the program and no public school personnel could be involved in providing the religious training.
Status: Pending in the House Committee on Education Policy
Jefferson County School Taxes
Sponsor: Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, Sen. Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills
Description: This proposed constitutional amendment would give the Jefferson County Commission the authority to call referendums on whether to impose additional property taxes for schools. The commission could set referendums on behalf of any school district in the county, and taxes could be raised by up to 75 cents on each $100 of assessed property value.
Status: Pending in the House and Senate committees on Jefferson County Legislation
No Zero-Tolerance Policies in Schools
Sponsor: Rep. Ed Henry, R-Decatur
Description: This bill would bar local school officials from setting zero-tolerance policies for student offenses such as bringing drugs, alcohol or weapons to school and harming or threatening to harm another person. Rather, school officials would be required to determine punishment case by case based on the facts of the situation. The exception is that the bill would not change the requirement that students who bring a firearm onto a school campus or bus be expelled for a year. The bill states that the result of zero-tolerance policies can be unfair punishments and that victims at times can be punished as much as their offenders.
Status: Pending before the House Education Policy Committee
Public/Private School Sports Teams
Sponsor: Rep. Ritchie Whorton, R-Scottsboro, et al
Description: This bill would bar public school sports teams from competing with non-public school sports teams in post-season play-off games and for state championships. The Alabama High School Athletic Association would be required to write rules that, beginning in the 2018-2019 school year, would provide that public school sports teams could compete in post-season games only against other public school teams, and non-public school sports teams also could compete only against each other in post-season play.
Status: Introduced last week and pending in the House Education Policy Committee.
Alabama Ethics Law
Sponsor: Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville
Description: This bill would rewrite several sections of the state’s Ethics Law. Among those, it would bar the attorney general or any district attorney from prosecuting someone for alleged violations of the ethics law unless the Ethics Commission had first declared that a violation had occurred. It also would give immunity to any official who has received an informal opinion from the Ethics Commission director or lawyer that their actions do not violate the law. Now, officials who rely on official opinions of the full Ethics Commission are given immunity for their actions, but not those issued unofficial opinions. The bill also would limit the effect of the state’s laws against a former public official lobbying other government officials on behalf of a client. The rule would apply only to state elected officeholders, if the bill were passed. The bill also would lift annual caps on the value of meals lobbyists could buy for officials.
Status: The bill’s sponsor has said the proposal needs more discussion and public hearings and is likely to change, but it still is pending in the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs.
Ban on Lobbyists for Executive Branch
Sponsors: Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, et al
Description: This bill would prohibit an executive branch agency from contracting with a lobbyist.
Status: Passed by the House and pending in the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee
Legislators Working for the State
Sponsor: Rep. Mike Hill, R-Columbiana; Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville
Description: This bill would allow sitting legislators who receive pensions from either the Alabama State Employee Retirement System or the Teacher Retirement System to work for an employer who is part of the ERS or TRS without it being considered illegal double-dipping. There are restrictions; the legislator could not be employed in a permanent full-time position and could not make more than $30,000 from the state-related job.
Status: The House Committee on Ethics and Campaign Finance approved the bill and it is pending in the House; pending in the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee
Sponsors: Rep. Allen Treadaway, R-Morris, et al
Description: This bill would automatically suspend a member of the Legislature who holds a leadership position from serving in that leadership position if they are indicted on a felony charge. The legislator could continue to serve in the Legislature while the case is adjudicated.
Status: Pending in the House Committee on State Government
Sponsor: Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper; Rep. Will Ainsworth, R-Guntersville
Details: This bill would expand the prohibition against former state employees lobbying their previous colleagues for two years after leaving state employ. Under the bill, the prohibition also would apply to people who worked under a consulting agreement, agency transfer, loan or similar agreement. The bill would, however, allow a retired agency director or division chief to be hired under contract for up to three months to help in the transition period following their departure.
Status: The Senate bill was passed by the Senate and referred to the House Committee on Ethics and Campaign Finance, where the House bill also is pending.
Sponsors: Rep. David Faulkner, R-Mountain Brook, et al
Description: The bill banned local governments from setting minimum wage amounts.
Status: The bill has been passed and signed by the governor. It blocked an ordinance signed by Birmingham’s mayor that would have set a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour for jobs in the city.
Minimum Wage Amendment
Sponsors: Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison, D-Birmingham, Sen. Billy Beasley, D-Clayton, and Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro
Description: The proposed constitutional amendment would increase the minimum wage in Alabama to $10 an hour in three steps by Jan. 1, 2018, and provide for cost-of-living increases after that.
Status: Pending in the Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee
Sponsors: Rep. Mark Tuggle, R-Alexander City, et al
Description: This bill would change the position of taxpayer advocate so it is appointed by the governor. Any taxpayer assistance orders issued by the advocate would go to the revenue commissioner, also a political appointee, for approval. Now, the revenue commissioner appoints the taxpayer advocate from among Department of Revenue employees, and the taxpayer assistance orders go through either the assistant commissioner, who is a merit system employee, or the commissioner. The tax advocate is charged with interceding on the behalf of taxpayers if there is a dispute over money owed to the state and there is ambiguity in the law or the state’s normal procedures break down. The advocate also is charged with identifying reasons for the problems taxpayers have dealing with the state and to suggest structural remedies to fix those issues in the future.
Status: Passed by the House and pending in the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee
Historic Preservation Tax Credits
Sponsor: Rep. Victor Gaston, R-Mobile, and Rep. David Faulkner, R-Mountain Brook
Description: The bill would extend for seven years the tax credit for restoring historic structure. Owners could claim the tax credit through 2022.
Status: The bill was passed by the House Ways and Means-Education Committee after being amended to suspend the tax credit in years of proration. It is pending in the House.
Sponsor: Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison
Description: The bill would expand legal protection for people possessing medically prescribed cannabidiol (CBD), a marijuana derivative usually used in oil form. The state previously had approved possession of CBD for patients enrolled in a study through UAB’s Department of Neurology, and this bill would expand the legal protections to others who have been diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition and have been prescribed the treatment by their physicians. CBD is most often used to control seizures and pain.
Status: Pending in the House Judiciary Committee
Sponsor: Rep. Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham
Details: This bill would require each county to provide at least one early voting center to be open for four to six days during the week before election day. Any registered voter could vote early in the election. The Senate bill would require the polls to be open for at least five days in the two weeks before an election.
Status: Pending in the House Committee on Constitution, Campaigns and Elections and the Senate Committee on Constitution, Ethics and Elections
Sponsor: Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne
Description: This proposed constitutional amendment would prohibit spending any Forever Wild Land Trust money on advertising, promoting or marketing the Forever Wild land conservation program.
Status: Pending in the Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee
Alabama Prison Transformation Initiative Act
Sponsor: Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne, Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark
Description: The bill would authorize the Alabama Corrections Institution Finance Authority to issue up to $800 million in bonds to pay for building four new prisons and renovating or demolishing existing prisons. To repay the bonds, the bill would allow the state to use property tax revenues that have been set aside to support Confederate veterans and their widows, though state officials have said reduced operating costs at the new prisons should cover the bond debt.
Pending: Senate Finance and Taxation-General Fund Committee, House Ways and Means-General Fund Committee
General Fund Budget
Sponsor: Rep. Steve Clous, R-Ozark, Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne
Description: The Senate approved a $1.8 billion budget that would level-fund the Alabama Medicaid Agency at $685.1 million. The agency had sought an increase of at least $100 million. The cut endangers the state’s plans to change Medicaid to a system of regional, managed care organizations. But the shift in the budget allows most other state agencies to keep funding the same or within 10 percent of the amount they received this year. Gov. Robert Bentley had proposed a $1.9 billion General Fund budget that included the increase for Medicaid and a proposal to shift $181 million in tax revenues from the ETF to the General Fund. As it stands now, the Senate version does not include that shift.
Key items in the budget as now drafted include:
- Increasing funding to the Department of Corrections by about $ 2 million, for a total of $402.8 million. That is about $6 million less than the governor had requested in his budget.
- Cutting funding for the Ethics Commission by more than 25 percent, from this year’s allocation of almost $2.7 million to $1.9 million for next year.
- Keep funding for the Alabama Department of Environmental Management at the same amount as this year, $280,000. The governor had proposed giving ADEM no money from the General Fund, which would leave the department to operate on money it makes from fees and grants. The department’s funding was reduced drastically this year, dropping from $2 million in fiscal year 2014-2015.
Status: The Senate version of the bill has been amended and approved by the Senate, and last week it was assigned to the House Ways and Means-General Fund Committee, where the House bill also is pending.
State Employee Pay Raises
Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Montgomery
Description: This bill would give state employees a 2 percent pay raise as of Oct. 1.
Status: Pending in the Senate Committee on Finance and Taxation-General Fund
Sponsor: Rep. Phil Poole, R-Tuscaloosa
Description: Under the proposed constitutional amendment, the Legislature would adopt budgets every two years, rather than every year. Legislators would continue to meet every year to discuss other matters in shortened sessions. Every other year, a special session would follow the regular session, during which legislators would debate the budgets.
Status: Pending in the House Ways and Means-Education Committee
State Parks Funding
Sponsors: Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville
Description: This proposed constitutional amendment would ban transferring money made at the state parks out of parks funds to be used for other government purposes. Several parks were threatened with closure this year after money was transferred to fund other departments.
Status: Approved by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee and pending before the Senate.
Cap Medicaid Spending on RCOs
Sponsor: Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery
Description: The bill would cap the amount the state’s Medicaid Agency could spend on administrative fees paid to regional care organizations to the agency’s average administrative costs over the previous five years. Gov. Robert Bentley has proposed adopting the RCOs plan as a way to operate more efficiently and overall save money.
Status: Introduced last week and pending in the House Ways and Means-General Fund Committee.
Sponsor: Sen. Billy Beasley, D-Clayton
Description: This bill would expand Medicaid to cover anyone for whom federal matching money is available under the Affordable Care Act. Some studies have indicated up to 300,000 more Alabamians could be covered by such an expansion. The federal government initially pays all costs but gradually shifts a portion to the states.
Status: Pending in the Senate Finance and Taxation-General Fund Committee
Medicaid Funding Amendment
Sponsor: Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile
Description: This is a constitutional amendment that would increase the state property tax by five mills, with the proceeds going to the General Fund to be used for Medicaid.
Status: Pending in the Senate Finance and Taxation-General Fund Committee.
2016 Legislative Update is reported by Virginia Martin, longtime state news and politics editor of The Birmingham News and recently contributor of the Alabama report for Center for Public Integrity’s 2015 State Integrity Investigation.