Education Issues to Follow in 2016

Keep your eyes on Montgomery advises Trisha Powell Crain, executive director of Alabama School Connection and contributor to BirminghamWatch.  The governor, Alabama legislature and education officials face a full plate of decisions that affect classrooms throughout the state.  Among important items, Crain says, are:

The RAISE Act  

Sen. Del Marsh. Photo, Office of President Pro Tem.

RAISE (Rewarding Advance in Instruction and Student Excellence Act) is still a draft proposal, not filed as a bill.   It affects teacher evaluation, teacher pay and teacher tenure.   An element in the draft calls for rating teacher effectiveness partly by student test scores.  Del Marsh, Alabama Senate President Pro Tem, has circulated the draft to traditional players in setting education policy, including the Alabama Association of School Boards and the Alabama Education Association.  This update last week is from Brian Lyman of the Montgomery Advertiser : Tenure bill greeted cautiously, raises some concerns

Education Trust Fund allocations

More dollars, millions more, are available to be budgeted for 2016-2017 than were allocated for the current fiscal year.   The big question:  What agencies and missions will get the new money?  On the table is whether teachers, who have gotten one 2 percent raise during the past eight years, will get a pay increase.  State Superintendent of Education Thomas Bice has recommended a 5 percent raise to the state Board of Education.

Alabama Ahead Act

This law, approved in 2012, is intended to bring Alabama schools into the internet age with infrastructure, such as dependable internet access, as well as classroom tablets and other devices.  It was never funded partly because interested parties couldn’t agree on how the money should be used.  Senator Gerald Dial has filed a bill this year that asks for $75 million from Education Trust Fund set-aside accounts (not money already free to be allocated) to pay for the mission, with priority given to addressing infrastructure needs.  Last year, the Alabama Educational Technology Association reported that 901 of 1012 schools surveyed needed network upgrades.  The Digital Learning Study Commission is required to report on its findings to the Legislature this year.

Replacing No Child Left Behind

Now that this federal law is history, replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act, Alabama and other states have more responsibility and more freedom to set education goals, plan programs to ensure learning and enforce standards.  State Superintendent of Education Thomas Bice and the State Department of Education are leading the effort to craft an Alabama accountability program, to take effect in 2017-18.

One requirement of ESSA, the new federal law, is that states must measure achievement and determine sanctions for schools where subgroup populations (broken down by racial, ethnic, ability and immigrant groups) struggle to achieve. Civil Rights groups have called for parents and communities to be diligent to ensure high expectations are set and schools are held accountable for the success of all children. One accountability piece now in place, which could be part of an overall plan, is the state’s new standardized test for students in grades three through eight, ACT Aspire.  In the 2014-15 school years, of six grades tested, only in third grade were more than half of students proficient in math.  In no grade were more than half of students proficient in reading.

(This January Briefing is one of several planned in BirminghamWatch’s emphasis areas:  local government, education, the environment and the economy.)