The Alabama Senate Education Policy Committee held a public hearing Wednesday on a bill that would require that more local public school funding follow children whose parents choose instead to enroll them in public charter schools instead of the local public school where the state has assigned them.
Senate Bill 311 is sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston. Marsh has championed more school choice in Alabama including sponsoring charter school bills in past legislative sessions.
“We passed public charter legislation,” Marsh said. “There are some things on the local level where dollars are not following the child as intended.”
Marsh said SB311 is focused on fixing some things that need to be fixed.
“The bill requires the state Department of Education help charter school applicants understand what kinds of local dollars are available to them,” Marsh said.
Money dedicated to transportation, capital costs and debt service would not transfer.
“These are public schools,” Marsh said. “Their parents are paying taxes. It was always intended for local school systems to retain some money.”
State Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, asked if the charter schools can be shut down.
“If they are not making the grade, they can be shut down,” Marsh said.
Marsh said it takes time for schools to become accredited, but the legislation intends for the public charter schools to become accredited.
“You know that I am against the bill,” Figures told Marsh.
Opponents and proponents of SB311 took turns giving their opinions in the public hearing.
Clint Daugherty is the general counsel for the Alabama Education Association.
“AEA has no problem with charter school,” Daugherty claimed. “AEA, however, has problem with some bad charter schools.”
Daugherty said existing charter schools legislation sets a cap at 10 million as the most money that can follow the child. In this bill, “that cap is out of play.”
J. J. Wedgworth is the superintendent of University Charter School in Livingston.
“University Charter School is a school designed by the community for the community,” Wedgworth said. “We serve a very high need.”
UCS has 300 students and growing. It is 55 percent black and 45 percent white.
“SB311 is very important to rural charter schools,” Wedgworth said. “University Charter Schools deserve access to local school funds.”
Wedgworth said that the Sumter County Public Schools have spent most of their local money on capital improvements so UCS won’t be able to access those funds under SB311, but they understand the importance of SB311 for the charter schools that come after them.
Ryan Hollingsworth is the executive director of the School Superintendents Association of Alabama.
“I have concerns about the local school revenues,” Hollingsworth said. “These are decisions made at the local level because they see the importance of education, because they support their local schools.”
Hollingsworth said this bill would ignore the local control.
“We already have a charter school commission in Montgomery that can create charter schools without any local control,” Hollingsworth said. “If a student in Vestavia Hills chooses to go to a public charter school in Shelby County, those local taxes would follow him out of the city and county.”
“I ask you to oppose SB311,” Hollingsworth asked the legislators.
Tyler Barnett is a seventh grade student at University Charter School.
“Sending me to University Charter School is one of the best things [my parents] could have done for me,” Barnett said. “We take pride waking up each day and putting on our UCS uniform.”
“At UCS, I am not just a student, but a contributing member of the community,” Barnett told the committee. “I believe that choice forever changed my path in life.”
Vic Wilson is the executive director of the Council for Leadership in Alabama Schools.
“We are not opposed to charter schools at all,” Wilson said. “I was superintendent at Hartselle City Schools. We had 600 students that chose to come to Hartselle that did not live in the Hartselle school district. Local funds did not follow those students.”
“I can not support this bill,” Wilson said. “Charter schools should be state money only.”
Rochelle Tolliver is a middle school teacher at University Charter School.
Tolliver spoke in support of SB311 in order to express the need for equal funding.
“I see the need with clarity,” Tolliver said. “I see the sacrifices that parents make to send their children to UCS,”
Tolliver said. “That every student in Alabama should receive proper funding no matter which school they choose to attend.”
“I am concerned any time that we have an education budget that is not providing the transportation funding even to the level of the 2008 budget,” said State Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham.
“We are giving computers to students that do not have a hot spot,” Smitherman said. “They have a computer and no way to use it. We have students with no books. Now, we are talking about getting all the local funding and sending that to the charter schools.”
“You are going to have cities that are going to have to send money to schools in another city,” Smitherman said. “I am going to vigorously oppose this.”
Figures said she is opposed to this but told the dozens of students, teachers, parents and administrators from UCS that she is not against them.
Figures said Alabama has never properly funded public education.
Smitherman said when the Legislature passed the original charter schools bill, she opposed taking funds from existing funds to these new entities we created.
“Those dollars are raised for the benefit of the student,” said State Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville. “I don’t see that it makes any difference if they cross a county line. The whole purpose of having the tax is to support the education of the student.”
“I want to thank all of the students and faculty who took time to come here today,” Marsh said.
Marsh said that SB311 is needed because things have been done to keep local funds from flowing.
“That is taxpayers money,” Marsh said. “Your money should go there for your child.”
Marsh said the difficulty of public charter schools to receive the local funds they are supposed to get is one of the roadblocks that have been thrown up to keep public charter schools from being created.
The Education Policy Committee will vote on SB311 next week.
Wide variance in educational attainment between counties
The top ten counties in Alabama for educational attainment are Madison, Shelby, Lee, Jefferson, Baldwin, Montgomery, Tuscaloosa, Autauga, Coffee and Elmore.
A recent analysis by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama shows a wide variance in educational attainment between Alabamians residing in different counties.
According to the PARCA research, across the state, 10 percent of Alabamians over the age of 25 have earned a master’s or higher-level degree. Sixteen percent of the adult population has just a bachelor’s degree. Just 9 percent of adult Alabamians have an associate’s degree.
Nearly 22 percent of Alabamians have attended college but did not earn a degree, and 31 percent of Alabamians have earned their high school diploma or GED but did not receive any education beyond that.
Ten percent of adult Alabamians have finished the ninth grade or higher but have not gotten a diploma or GED. Just 4 percent of Alabamians 25 or older dropped out of school without at least finishing the ninth grade.
At least 35 percent of Alabamians have at least an associate’s degree. By comparison, 20 percent of the adult population in Massachusetts has a master’s degree or above and 24 percent have at least bachelor’s degree. Factoring in the 8 percent with associate’s degrees, 52 percent of Massachusetts adults have some sort of degree versus just 35 percent of Alabamians.
Alabama is 44th in educational attainment. West Virginia is 51st with 30 percent — 22 percent with a 4 year degree or above. Georgia, largely due to the success of the HOPE scholarships, has 40 percent of the population with a degree two year or above. Mississippi is at 33 percent. The national average is 39.9 percent.
The PARCA study also breaks it down into county-by-county differences. The top ten counties in Alabama for educational attainment are Madison, Shelby, Lee, Jefferson, Baldwin, Montgomery, Tuscaloosa, Autauga, Coffee and Elmore.
In Madison County, 8.1 percent of adults have an associate’s degree, 25.7 percent have earned at least a bachelor’s degree and 16 percent have a master’s or higher degree. More than 20 percent have some college but no degree, 20.8 have a high school diploma with no education above that, 5.9 percent finished the ninth grade and 2.9 percent dropped out in the ninth grade or earlier.
Nearly 50 percent of adults in Madison County older than age 25 have earned at least a two-year degree. Madison County is followed by Shelby County with 49.5 percent, Lee with 43.1 percent, Jefferson with 40.7 percent and Baldwin at 40.7 percent. These are the only five counties that are above the national average.
The bottom 10 counties for educational attainment are Wilcox, Bibb, Greene, Coosa, Cleburne, Bullock, Lawrence, Conecuh, Barbour and Washington. Wilcox is in 67th place for educational attainment and is also regularly one of the state leaders in its unemployment rate. Just 3.6 percent of adults in Wilcox County have a master’s degree or above, just 8.9 percent have completed their four-year degree and only 4.8 percent have even an associate’s degree. Just 17.3 percent of the adult population in Wilcox County has any sort of degree. That is 22.6 percentage points below the national average. Nearly 20 percent of adults in Wilcox County have attended college but did not finish, and 40.3 percent has a high school diploma or the equivalent but no college. More than 16.5 percent finished the ninth grade but did not get a diploma or GED. Nearly 10 percent did not finish the ninth grade.
Educational attainment is a concern because the fastest growing professions generally require more education than simply a high school diploma. Gov. Kay Ivey is trying to increase the percent of the workforce with at least a two-year associate’s degree or the technical training equivalent of a two-year associate’s degree.
Many high-paying technology jobs require a two year or even a four-year degree or above. It is difficult for the state to recruit those sorts of employers to counties where the workforce is not competent to fill the positions. Those sorts of employers often have to recruit employees from far outside the county or even the state.
Even manufacturing jobs are increasingly high tech as new factories use more robotics and automation than the factories of the past. Today’s high-paying jobs require more knowledge, skill and technical competence than the factory jobs of the past.
Higher Ed Commission elects Dothan businessman, Huntsville CEO as chair and vice chair
Charles Buntin was elected chairman and Miranda Bouldin Frost was elected vice chair of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, the commission announced on Friday.
Both have been members of the commission since 2015.
“As the coordinating board for public higher education in Alabama, I pledge to continue to work with our institutions throughout this pandemic to maintain the highest level of excellence for Alabama’s students,” Buntin said. “Earlier this year, our colleges and universities proved their resilience to a changing work environment by successfully transitioning to online learning.”
Buntin is a shareholder and realtor with Tom West Company in Dothan. He graduated from Leadership Alabama in 2013, is a current member of the Houston County-Dothan Rotary Club and is a former chairman of the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce.
Bouldin Frost is president and CEO of LogiCore Corp. in Huntsville, a company that provides Systems Engineering and Technical Assistance (SETA) services to U.S. Department of Defense agencies.
She is a member of the Greater Huntsville Rotary Club and a board member of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce.
The commission faces steep challenges. State funding had been increasing to help institutions recover from the 2008 recession before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Now institutional enrollments, budgets, auxiliary revenue and the health of employees and students are simultaneously at risk.
“The dedication to student success shown by Chairman Buntin and Vice Chair Bouldin Frost will guide their decision making as the higher education community navigates the current COVID crisis and its impact on Alabama’s universities and community colleges,” said Jim Purcell, executive director of the ACHE.
Alabaster City Schools gets federal grant to bolster security
U.S. Attorney Prim Escalona on Friday announced that the U.S. Department of Justice has awarded a $374,883 grant to Alabaster City Schools’ Board of Education to bolster school security.
The grant is administered through the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) School Violence Prevention Program (SVPP), which has awarded almost $50 million in grants nationwide.
“I am pleased to announce that the COPS Office has awarded this grant to the Alabaster City Schools’ Board of Education this year,” Escalona said in a statement. “The safety of our students is a top priority and this grant will enhance school safety for these students. While there have been some unique challenges to this school year, our commitment to ensuring students are safe when attending school is the same.”
“With the new school year underway, the safety of our nation’s students remains paramount,” said COPS Office Director Phil Keith in a statement. “Although this school year may look different at the start, now is the ideal time to make preparations to enhance school safety for when all of our children are back in the classroom.”
Alabaster City Schools will be able to coordinate with law enforcement, train local law enforcement officers to prevent student violence, buy metal detectors, locks, lighting, and other deterrent measures, buy technology to notify local law enforcement during an emergency and other measures that provide a significant improvement in security, according to a press release from the Department of Justice.
Gov. Kay Ivey awards $72 million for remote learning tech in state colleges
Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday awarded $72.34 million in federal coronavirus aid to the state’s higher education institutions for remote learning technology.
“Since July, the state of Alabama has awarded $432,753,000 to various levels of education to ensure that we have a safe and smart continuation of educational instruction,” Ivey said in a statement. “COVID-19 has exposed deficiencies in our remote learning capabilities, and I am pleased to award our institutions of higher education the critical funds to enhance their instructional experience.”
“My office has received numerous CARES Act funding requests, and we are eager to help as many folks as possible. We are still reviewing them to ensure they meet eligibility under the letter of the law and will be forthcoming when finalized,” Ivey continued.
The Alabama Community College System will receive $27,345,000.
- From the $300,000,000 for expenditures related to technology and infrastructure related to remote instruction and learning
- To support the purchase of technology hardware and software to facilitate distance education and remote learning at the state’s community colleges
- $8 million for a laptop loaner program to assist low-income and other students within special populations with remote learning
- $10 million for a statewide virtual desktop environment that will allow students to utilize institution owned software anywhere and at any time
- $2,920,000 for video conferencing equipment in a classroom at each community college
- $6,425,000 for Zoom rooms, next generation firewalls and online course assistance
“Alabama’s community colleges have adapted quickly to a new learning environment at each of our 24 colleges, but we are constantly looking for new, innovative, and engaging ways to improve the student experience,” ACCS Chancellor Jimmy H. Baker said in a statement. “We are grateful for the additional resources this funding will provide to enhance learning for Alabamians for years to come.”
Alabama Public 4-Year Institutions will receive $25,000,000.
- From the $300,000,000 for expenditures related to technology and infrastructure related to remote instruction and learning
- To establish a reimbursement for universities for costs they are incurring related to remote instruction and learning
- Maximum allocations per institution have been established
- This is in addition to the $50 million the Governor allocated on July 6, 2020, to assist the universities with COVID-related expenses
“While the Higher Education Partnership is energized by the return to campus of our students this fall, the year has certainly been filled with COVID-19 related challenges for Alabama’s 14 public universities,” Alabama Higher Education Partnership executive director Gordon Stone said in a statement. “Throughout the year, Governor Kay Ivey and her team have worked with the institutions to make sure that Alabama’s next generation of leaders have been served with a continuous learning experience. Thank you, Governor Ivey, for once again recognizing the importance of our students, faculty and staff with the latest round of CARES Act support.”
Alabama Independent Colleges will receive $20,000,000.
- From the $118,346,250 for any lawful purpose as provided by the United States Congress, the United States Treasury Department, or any other federal entity of competent jurisdiction
- To establish a reimbursement program to assist Independent Colleges with expenditures that they are incurring related to the coronavirus
- Maximum allocations per institution have been established
“On behalf of the 25,000 students at Alabama’s Independent Colleges, we want to express our sincere gratitude to the governor,” Alabama Association of Independent Colleges and Universities president Paul Hankins said in a statement. “The additional support is greatly appreciated in this unprecedented time of financial need. These funds will go a long way to ensure our schools can remain open. Our colleges have done everything necessary to keep their students safe and on campus.”