For decades, Alabama state government has largely deferred decision making on educational matters to the elected state school board. The governor and legislature prepared budgets and the state school board and their appointed superintendent largely did things their way without a lot of interference.
This week the legislature is considering a broad spectrum of bills entirely changing that policy. With time running out on this session the legislature is pondering a host of bills to transform education in Alabama as we know it; while most of the rest of Alabama is focused on their summer vacation.
First is legislation completely toppling the elected state school board itself.
Senate Bill 397 is sponsored by State Senator Del Marsh, R-Anniston. Marsh is the President Pro Tem of the Senate.
SB397 is an amendment to the Alabama Constitution of 1901. It changes the composition of the State Board of Education from an elected board to an appointed board. The position of Superintendent of Education would be changed to the Secretary of Education. The board would be renamed the Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education. The members of the commission would be appointed by the Governor and be subject to confirmation by the Senate. The Governor would also appoint a team of local educators and other officials to advise the commission on matters relating to the functioning and duties of the State Department of Education.
The new Commission is directed to “adopt all of the following: “a. Course of study standards that ensure nationwide consistency and the seamless transfer of students from within and outside of the state, in lieu of common core. “b. A comprehensive educator certification program. “c. A comprehensive professional development program for educators. “d. A comprehensive assessment system. “e. A comprehensive accountability system.
SB397 has been passed by the Senate. Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, has said that this will be a priority of the House this week.
House Bill 423 orders all parents to send their children to kindergarten.
HB423 is sponsored by State Representative Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee. The bill makes kindergarten attendance mandatory. Rep. Warren said that homeschooling is allowed; but the child must be in an approved home school program. HB423 easily passed the House on Thursday and will be taken up by the Senate this week. Presently, 92 percent of five year-old children are in compliance. This orders the other eight percent of parents to get in line with the state.
Senate Bill 14 makes Bible education an elective subject across Alabama’s public school systems.
SB14 is sponsored by State Senator Tim Melson, R-Florence. The bill passed the House on Thursday with amendment. It now goes back to the Senate for them to concur or non-concur. If they non-concur it would go to a conference committee and the conference committee version would have to be voted on by both Houses.
House Bill 566 sets up a system of apprenticeships by which high school students can earn a certificate to work in a trade field while still in high school.
HB566 by State Representative Terri Collins, R-Decatur. The bill passed the House on Thursday. It provides that an individual who completes an apprenticeship may be granted an occupational license in that trade if the individual also meets other requirements, including completion of any required examination with a passing score, and provides that if a licensing authority requires an examination for a license, the authority may not impose higher testing standards upon that individual than it does for any other applicant. This bill also provides incentives for employers to hire in-school youth apprentices by allowing children from 14 years of age through 17 years of age to participate in apprenticeship programs certified by the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship. The bill now going to the State Senate for their consideration.
HB566 now goes to the Senate.
Senate Bill 222 wipes out all of the elected school superintendents in the state.
SB222 is sponsored by State Senator Tom Butler, R-Madison.
SB222 would replace all of the elected county school superintendents with appointed superintendents. That bill has already passed the Senate. On Thursday, Speaker McCutcheon told reporters that passing the bill in the House would be a priority this week.
The Alabama Literacy Act, House Bill 388, would require that all third grade students who have not shown competency in reading be required to repeat third grade.
HB388 is also sponsored by Rep. Collins, who is the Chairwoman of the House Education Policy Committee.
HB388 implements steps towards improving the reading proficiency of public school kindergarten to third grade students and ensure that those students are able to read at or above grade level by the end of the third grade by monitoring the progression of each student from one grade to another, in part, by his or her proficiency in reading. Collins said that this bill is based on a model that has been adopted with some success by Mississippi.
HB388 was passed by the House on Wednesday, May 15 and is now being considered by the Senate.
The legislature has already passed a bill requiring that every public school classroom begin each day with the Pledge of Allegiance.
The legislature also has to consider the education budget. It has passed the Senate and on Tuesday was passed out of committee in the House of Representatives. The $7.1 billion education trust fund budget (ETF) is the largest investment in education in the history of the state.
South Alabama medical residents work alongside Orange Beach first responders
Residents in USA Health’s Emergency Medicine Residency Program are given the opportunity to rotate with emergency medical services (EMS) in Orange Beach. The residents are stationed at the Orange Beach Fire Department giving resident physicians the experience of responding to emergency calls alongside paramedics and firefighters.
Paul Henning, M.D. is the associate program director of the Emergency Medicine Residency Program at USA Health and medical director of Orange Beach Fire/Rescue.
“The expertise that a patient gets in the field can determine outcomes,” Henning explained. “It bridges the gap between the physician and the paramedic. Seldom, if ever, do physicians have this kind of exposure to prehospital emergency services. It also gives the physician more perspective of what the paramedics are doing in the field. If we have an opportunity to improve the prehospital scope of practice, then we have accomplished our goals.”
Henning also serves as an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine.
He said that it is vital that physicians understand what happens in the prehospital stage of care.
The innovative program was established in July 2019.
Andrew Warner, M.D., took a nonlinear path to emergency medicine. Dr. Warner is a former Green Beret, who served with the U.S. Army 5thSpecial Forces Group on tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Following his military service, he went on to earn his medical degree from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. He completed his residency training in family medicine at USA Health and started in the emergency medicine program as a second-year resident.
Warner expressed his great respect for the Orange Beach first responders, who “epitomize true dedication to patient care and outcomes.”
“I have further learned to appreciate just how critical those precious seconds in the prehospital setting are for patient survivability,” Warner added.
Justin Thomas, M.D. is a second-year emergency medicine resident and was the first USA Health resident to rotate in Orange Beach. Thomas said that the experience opened his eyes to the constraints paramedics endure while working in the field, particularly when responding to calls in rural areas of the county.
“There are locations they respond to that may be in the middle of the woods, or down a dirt road someone only goes down once every couple of weeks,” Thomas said. “They have to lug their supplies and the stretcher to the house, assess and care for the patient, and then bring them to the ambulance.”
The medics are limited by the supplies and tools they have with them, Thomas said. “It’s much different being at a hospital with all the resources at your disposal versus working from an ambulance with limited capabilities.”
Thomas earned his medical degree from the American University of the Caribbean. He took a nontraditional route to emergency medicine. As a resident in USA Health’s Family Medicine Residency Program, he rotated in the emergency department at University Hospital and was attracted to the field.
After graduating from his family medicine residency in June 2019, Thomas was offered a spot in the new Emergency Medicine Residency Program. Dr. Thomas was given approval from the American Board of Emergency Medicine to start as a second-year because of his months of training in emergency medicine during his family medicine residency.
Economic developer Dr Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter, “Response time is critical, especially in rural areas and areas that have longer distances to medical facilities than urban counterparts. The partnership between USA Health emergency medicine residency program and Orange Beach paramedics and fire rescue is a win-win situation. Both parties learn from one another and gain a deeper understanding of the pre-hospital setting, and most importantly, having professionals available in emergency situations with unique skill sets can ultimately save more patients’ lives.”
The partnership is mutually beneficial for USA Health’s emergency medicine residency program and Orange Beach’s paramedical and fire-rescue services. By adding the resident physicians the paramedics are able to provide a higher level of care to patients.
“I love to hear the interaction between our staff and the residents,” said Orange Beach Fire Chief Mike Kimmerling. “Even when they’re not running calls, there is a tremendous amount of knowledge being transferred in their conversations.”
The residents gain more diversity of exposure in Orange Beach than in a larger city like Mobile, Henning said. “Most fire and rescues in large cities are close to hospitals, so the transport time is usually 10 minutes or less, whereas in Orange Beach the time could be significantly longer. When they are able to render care for a longer period of time, they have the chance to sharpen their skills and have more patient exposure.”
Dr. Henning said that Orange Beach also gives the residents the unique experiences of working on fire and rescue boats.
Henning said that before starting the EMS rotation, the residents are required to be fully licensed by the state and to have completed an online medical direction course. If any questions or concerns arise, Henning and other emergency medicine attending physicians with USA Health are always available to provide their medical direction. Residents cannot start the EMS rotation until their second year. As the first class of residents graduate to their second year, six residents will rotate throughout the academic year. Third-years have the option to do an additional EMS rotation.
(Based on original reporting by USA Health’s Lindsay Lyle.)
Alabama Workforce Council delivers annual report touting improved career pathways
The Alabama Workforce Council (AWC) recently delivered its Annual Report to Gov. Kay Ivey and members of the legislature. The report highlights the many and varied workforce successes from 2019. It also outlines policy recommendations to further solidify Alabama as a leader in workforce development and push the state closer to Ivey’s goal of adding 500,000 credentialed workers to the state’s workforce by 2025.
Gov. Ivey acknowledged the recent progress stating, “the continued efforts of the AWC and the various state agency partners in transforming our workforce are substantial. Significant work has been accomplished to ensure all Alabamians have a strong start and strong finish. We will continue to bolster our state’s economy through dynamic workforce development solutions to help us reach our ambitious goal.”
The AWC, formed in 2015, was created as an employer-led, statewide effort to understand the structure, function, organization and perception of the Alabama workforce system. The goal of the AWC is to facilitate collaboration between government and industry to help Alabama develop a sustainable workforce that is competitive on a global scale.
“This report details the tremendous efforts of the dedicated AWC members and their partners who have greatly contributed to the progress of building a highly-skilled workforce.” noted Tim McCartney, Chairman of the AWC. “To meet ever-growing job needs of an expanding economy, we have put forth recommendations to bring working-age Alabamians sitting on the sidelines back into the workforce to address our low workforce participation rate.”
Included among the many highlights from the report are:
- Created the Alabama Office of Apprenticeship to support apprenticeships and work-based learning statewide.
- Established the Alabama Committee on Credentialing & Career Pathways (ACCCP) to identify credentials of value that align with in-demand career pathways across Alabama.
- Furthered foundational work toward cross-agency outcome sharing through the Alabama Terminal on Linking and Analyzing Statistics (ATLAS).
- Commissioned statewide surveys to better understand the characteristics, and potential barriers, of the priority population groups (during record-low unemployment) identified as likely to enter or re-enter the state’s workforce.
- Provided technical assistance, support staff and grant writing services to a cohort of over 30 nonprofits from across the state enabling them to expand services and directly connect more Alabamians to training and economic opportunity. Services helped cohort members secure over $6.4 million in grant money through various out-of-state grant programs.
- Identified and evaluated 17 population segments of potential workers and determined the likelihood of adding members of those respective population segments into the workforce. Within this process, issues affecting the state’s labor participation rate were also detailed.
Vice-Chair of the AWC Sandra Koblas of Austal USA commented, “the energy around workforce development in Alabama right now is incredibly exciting. We are working together with businesses, nonprofits and agency partners to reduce barriers, increase opportunities and grow the state’s overall economy.”
The full report can be viewed here.
To learn more about the Alabama Workforce Council please visit: www.alabamaworks.com/alabama-workforce-council
Committee hears state plan to address student mental health
State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey asked the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee for funding to put more mental health professionals in schools.
While addressing the committee, Mackey said that having more counseling available for students will help to not only address student mental health but to also help teachers who are “overwhelmed” with trying to make up for the lack of counseling services.
“Teachers are the frontline on good mental health for our students,” Mackey said. “They have to do a lot of the work but teachers are not therapists. They don’t have time to do it, they’re not trained to do it and teachers in our state are absolutely overwhelmed with the problems that are coming into their classrooms.
The Alabama State Department of Education in collaboration with the Alabama Department of Mental Health created the School Based Mental Health Services Program (SBMH) in 2010 with the goal of ensuring that children and adolescents, both general and special education, enrolled in local school systems have access to high quality mental health prevention, early intervention and treatment services.
The collaboration places a certified mental health professional, hired by the mental health department, in a school system to be available throughout the school day, with an estimated cost of $50,000 per site, according to Mackey.
Mackey said in his presentation that there is a need for far more of these therapists than he is requesting but that there simply are not enough of them available to be hired. He also noted that seeking the help of social workers and organizations like the Department of Human Resources to fill that need for more school counseling would ultimately harm their existing duties.
“If we put students in therapy but then they’re going home to a dysfunctional situation, then we’re just spinning our wheels and that’s why we’ve got to have community collaborations and we’ve got to have these other strong agencies like Mental Health (Department) and DHR to support the work with the communities.”
Alabama State Senator Jim McClendon (District 11) said that he has heard from “frustrated” teachers who have to take on responsibilities apart from teaching.
“They were kind of depressed, the teachers were, simply because they felt like they weren’t able to do the job they were hired to do because they were doing so many other things,” McClendon said.
In the 2019 Fiscal Year, nine mental health centers were added with the $500,000 appropriation in FY19. There are now a total of 72 school systems participating in School-Based Mental Health. Mackey says there will be 82 by the end of this year and asked for funding for 20 more after meeting that goal.
Business, community leaders call on lawmakers to support Gov. Ivey’s push for more Pre-K funds
Governor Ivey’s push for a $25 million statewide expansion of Alabama’s high-quality, voluntary First Class Pre-K program was endorsed today by business and community leaders from across the state. If approved by the state Legislature, the proposed funding increase would add at least 160 new classrooms next year and help enroll at least 2,889 additional four-year-olds.
The Alabama School Readiness Alliance Pre-K Task Force included its support for Governor Ivey’s budget request in its 2020 Legislative Recommendations. The ASRA Pre-K Task Force consists of more than 60 prominent leaders from the business, education, civic, medical, legal, philanthropic, military, and child advocacy communities.
In addition to increased funding in FY2021, the Task Force’s plan proposes a series of recommendations to fully fund the state’s First Class Pre-K program by the 2022-23 school year while maintaining the program’s benchmarks for quality and accountability. The Pre-K Task Force’s Recommendations are available in their entirety at https://www.alabamaschoolreadiness.org/asra-pre-k-task-force-recommendations/.
“We are not there yet, but the state is moving in the right direction to provide high-quality, voluntary pre-k to all families that want it,” said Mike Luce and Bob Powers, business leaders and co-chairs of the Alabama School Readiness Alliance Pre-K Task Force. “The Alabama School Readiness Alliance’s Pre-K Task Force is pleased that Governor Ivey is once again prioritizing additional funds to add more pre-k classrooms across the state. We stand with Governor Ivey and encourage lawmakers to appropriate the $25 million increase outlined in her proposal.”
For 13 years in a row, the National Institute for Early Education Research has ranked Alabama’s pre-k program as the number one state-funded pre-kindergarten program in the country for quality. Research by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham has found that students who participate in a First Class Pre-K classroom – regardless of demographics, zip code or school – are more likely to be proficient in math and reading than their peers.
The Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education manages the First Class Pre-K program. It allocates funding for the First Class Pre-K program through a competitive application process. Public and private schools, child care centers, faith-based centers, Head Start programs, nonprofits, universities, and other community-based providers are all eligible to apply. Potential providers can apply for three different levels of funding: an excellence classroom (up to $50,400), tiered funding (ranges from $86,904 to $100,008), and a new classroom (up to $120,000). Applications for First Class Pre-K classroom funding are due March 13 on the Department’s website, www.children.alabama.gov.
The ASRA Pre-K Task Force first proposed expanding voluntary pre-k access to all families in 2012. Since then, state leaders have incrementally increased the level of investment in Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program from $19 million to $122.8 million. In 2012, the program enrolled just six percent of Alabama’s four-year-olds. In the 2019-20 school year, nearly 40 percent of Alabama’s four-year-olds attend First Class Pre-K.
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