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Legislature passes constitutional amendment to abolish elected school board

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama Legislature passed a state constitutional amendment Friday that would replace Alabama’s State Board of Education with an appointed commission on education and change the education standards for the state.

Senate Bill 397 was sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston.

The bill was carried in the House by State Rep. Bill Poole, R-Tuscaloosa.

The commission will be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Alabama State Senate. The bill also replaces the much maligned Common Core education standards. The commission is instructed to replace the Common Core with national standards that can be transferable with the rest of the country. Since this is a constitutional amendment, it will appear on the March 3 ballot for a vote of the people.

During the House floor debate, Poole told legislators that what we are doing is giving the voters the right to vote on whether to continue with the status quo or not.

“If the people don’t like it, they will vote it down,” said State Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham. “If they like it, they will vote for it.”

“The status quo is not working,” Poole said. “Why are we ranked 49th in eighth grade math? Why are we ranked 46th in eighth grade reading? And I can go on and on.”

“We have had four superintendents in five years,” Poole said. “If you change football coaches four times in five years, you won’t be winning there either.”

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Poole said the racial composition of the commission will be based on the racial makeup of the student population. On the current Board of Education, there are two black board members. With the current racial composition of the students, that would go up to three.

The governor will appoint the members of the commission, and the Senate will confirm; but the Legislature passed special legislation for the three minority seats on the commission. The House Black Caucus will provide the governor a list of three names that they can pick one member from, and the Senate Black Caucus will do the same. For the third minority member, both the House and the Senate Black Caucuses will provide the list of three names. If the governor does not like the three names on one of the lists, they will be provided with a second list to choose from.

That was not part of the amendment, but was instead passed in separate legislation, Senate Bill 398, also sponsored by Marsh. Since that is statute and not embedded in the amendment itself, the Republican supermajority could, in theory, strip the minority caucus of their role in picking commission members by future legislation if and when they no longer need the minority to pass their agenda.

Poole said the Legislature has passed the largest education budget in history, but money alone is not going to solve the problems. He said the governor will appoint “subject-matter experts” to the new commission.

“We may have confidence in the current governor, but we don’t know who the next governor will be in four years or eight years from now,” said State Rep. Alan Farley, R-McCalla.

Poole said we have to rely on the Senate on approving the confirmations.

“For the first time, someone is going to be held responsible for education, and that is the governor,” Poole said. “We have identified the failing schools in the state, but what are we doing about it?”

“A failing school is a reflection of a failing community, which is a reflection of a failing family,” Farley said.

“We should not have a failing elementary school,” Poole said. “When you have a failing elementary school, you get failing middle schools and high schools.”

Farley said the state and federal government spend $2.2 billion on DHR trying to fix failing families.

“The Pardons and Paroles board is going to be appointed,” said State Rep. Louise Alexander, D-Bessemer. “Now, the school board. Are we giving the governor too much power?”

“We want to achieve the best governance possible,” said State Rep. Alan Baker, R-Brewton.

Baker said in his career as an educator, he had worked for both elected and appointed school superintendents and that sometimes the elected superintendents did things for political reasons and not for what was in the best interest of education.

“The top-10 states in education all have school boards appointed by the governor,” Poole said.

“You change the school system by putting books in school,” said State Rep. Juandalyn Givan, D-Birmingham. “You change the school system by putting good teachers in schools, and you do that by giving more than a measly 4 percent raise. You change the school system by getting more parental involvement. This won’t change the schools.”

Poole said the new Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education would choose the right standards for the state of Alabama.

“Teachers like Common Core,” said State Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee. “I think when all is said and done, it is going to be common core with another name.”

“There is more to this than trying to change how the school board is being governed,” said state Rep. Christopher John England, D-Tuscaloosa. “You say you want to take politics out of education, but when it is on the ballot, they are going to say, ‘Come vote for this to get rid of common core.’”

The bill passed the House 78 to 21. It had already passed the Senate.

Because it is an amendment and not a regular bill, it bypasses the governor and goes straight to the voters on March 3.

The 2019 Alabama Legislative Session is now over. This bill was passed just a few hours before the end of the session.

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Education

Slight decline in number of Alabama graduates attending college, report shows

Jessa Reid Bolling

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The number of Alabama high school graduates enrolling in college has slightly decreased over the last five years, according to a report published by a nonpartisan research group based at Samford University.

The Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA) has a tradition of reporting college-going rates for Alabama and its local systems and schools.

The percentage of high school graduates in Alabama enrolling in college after graduating in 2018 remained the same as the graduating class of 2017, at 62 percent. The number and percentage attending two-year colleges slightly increased. The number and percentage of recent graduates entering four-year colleges both slightly decreased.

The data, drawn by ACHE from the National Student Clearinghouse, follows Alabama public high school students who graduated in the spring of 2018 and enrolled in higher education in the fall or spring of 2019. The data includes records for in-state and out-of-state institutions, both public and private.

Over the past five years, the college-going rates for Alabama’s high school graduates have declined slightly. In 2014, the first year this set of statistics was produced, 65 percent of high school graduates enrolled in college the year after their graduation. In both 2017 and 2018, 62 percent of graduates enrolled.

At the same, the size of the senior classes has been larger and graduation rates have been higher. That has produced more high school graduates going into college. 

While 2018’s 62 percent college-going rate is tied for the lowest rate over this five year period, the actual number of graduates enrolling in college increased in 2018 compared to 2017. Only in 2016 did more students attend college, 31,414 in 2016, compared to 31,337 students in 2018.

However, the larger classes of seniors and higher graduation rates have resulted in greater numbers of students graduating with a high school diploma but not immediately continuing their education. Among graduates of the Class of 2018, 19,191 did not enroll in higher education after graduating high school.

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The report found that the top five systems sending students to four-year colleges includes:

  • Mountain Brook City: 86 percent
  • Vestavia Hills: 79 percent
  • Homewood City: 71 percent
  • Hoover City: 64 percent
  • Trussville City: 59 percent

The report also found that the top five systems sending students to two-year colleges includes:

  • Lamar County: 67 percent
  • Boaz City: 69 percent
  • Roanoke City: 60 percent
  • Marion County: 57 percent
  • Winfield City and Winston County: 55 percent
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Education

Alabama farmers are providing students with virtual field trips

Brandon Moseley

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The COVID-19 global pandemic and forced economic shutdown have left most of Alabama’s school children at home; being educated by their parents, with some resources being sent by the school systems. Most parents are struggling to find educational resources to keep their children both learning and engaged. Alabama farmers are coming to the aid of parents by hosting virtual field trips every Friday through May 22.

The Alabama farmers are hosting the virtual field trips through Facebook Live on the Alabama Farmers Federation Facebook page every Friday at 10:00 a.m.

The first of these programs was held on Friday, April 3rd and addressed peanuts.

Roughly half of the peanuts grown in the United States are grown within a 100-mile radius of Dothan.

The farmers explained how peanuts grow, the life cycle of the peanut plants, and how farmers use nature, hard work, and science to turn the legumes into the common household peanut derived food stuff that we all enjoy.

During future presentations will explain when do Alabama farmers grow different fruits and vegetables? What’s the difference between a cow, a bull and a calf? How do farmers get honey from bees? How do farmers raise catfish? And many more interesting topics.

The Alabama farmers will answer all those questions and much more during the Virtual Field Trips offered through Facebook Live on the Alabama Farmers Federation Facebook page every Friday at 10 a.m. through May 22.

“Parents and their children are making huge adjustments as their homes become classrooms, and we want to help by offering entertaining and educational field trips from some of our farmers,” said Alabama Farmers Federation Communications Department director Jeff Helms. “While these videos will target third through fifth graders, people of all ages will learn more about how farmers grow food, fiber and timber.”

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“For all of the parents who are helping teach kids from home, this virtual field trip will be coming up,” said Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-Haleyville on social media. “Thank you to all the teachers and parents who have had to adapt to distance learning during these Stay at Home days.”

The farmers are gearing up for their next Virtual Field Trip on April 10. Friday’s topic will be fruits and vegetables.

The list of currently scheduled topics, subject to change, include:

  • April 3 – Peanuts and other row crops.
  • April 10 – Fruits and vegetables.
  • April 17– Beef cattle.
  • April 24 – Honeybees.
  • May 1 – Catfish.
  • May 8 – Greenhouse and nursery products.
  • May 15 – Forestry.
  • May 22 – Cotton and other row crops.

To receive Facebook notifications about the Virtual Field Trips, respond as “Interested” in the event or follow the Alabama Farmers Federation page.

This Virtual Field Trips project was developed in conjunction with Girl Scouts of Southern Alabama (GSSA).

(Original reporting by Alabama Farmer Federation’s Mary Wilson contributed to this report.)

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Alabama institutions of higher learning respond to COVID-19 pandemic

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday, the Alabama Commission on Higher Education reported that throughout Alabama higher education is responding to the call for help during the Coronavirus pandemic. The support has been widespread from food supplies to equipment needs.

“I am heartened by the generosity of college and university staff and students in supporting their community, hospitals and healthcare professionals,” said Alabama Commission on Higher Education Executive Director Jim Purcell.

The institutional efforts have expanded beyond the boundaries of converting to online coursework for students into the communities they serve.

Alabama’s community colleges, along with the University of Montevallo and the University of Alabama, have supplied healthcare workers with 3D printed Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

The University of Montevallo is providing free WIFI to the downtown area of Montevallo. This particularly helps area public school children who are having to now take all of their classes online as Alabama K-12 schools are closed through the end of the year.

The Greek community on the campus of the University of Alabama have donated 5,000 pounds of food to the West Alabama Food Bank.

Outside-the-box-thinking has led chemistry and geoscience professors at Jacksonville State University to help Yellowhammer Brewery and Distillery transition to manufacturing hand sanitizer at the Huntsville-based beer distillery. What was supposed to be spring break for the northeast campus turned into a volunteer effort to analyze the company’s first batch of sanitizer to ensure it met the recommendations of the World Health Organization.

East Alabama Medical Center (EAMC) has received medical supplies from Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Auburn has donated three ventilators and multiple disposable supplies to EAMC.

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Although athletic games and training are all on hold, the equipment staff members at Auburn have turned their attention to sewing face masks to be used to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

ACHE’s Purcell called the varied efforts of assistance inspiring. “We are benefitting from technology being used in ways never before seen,” he said.

Troy University has partnered with Troy Elementary School for years to develop a community garden. Social distancing has transitioned the garden into the home of a university coordinator who is continuing to offer lessons on nutrition and gardening via Zoom. Troy’s Rosa Parks Museum has gone virtual through tours and resource sharing.

The University of South Alabama is offering the South CARES Student Emergency Fund to direct critical resources to students who have urgent expenses. USA is collaborating with the city of Mobile to provide appointment-only drive through testing for COVID-19. Virtual visits, provided by USA Health, will give patients access to healthcare providers.

Alabama A&M University is maintaining contact with students via telehealth services for those experiencing depression and anxiety related to the Coronavirus disruption of their academic lives.

James E. Purcell is the Executive Director of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education.

“ACHE will continue to work with our institutions in innovative ways to assist students and the state’s needs during this pandemic,” Purcell said. “This will be recorded as an impossible semester that has produced many heroes and new life lessons.”

A team of Auburn engineering faculty, students, and alumni developed an accessory that added to a common household CPAP machine turns the CPAP into an emergency life-saving ventilator. The prototype was developed March 20 to 22 by Tom Burch and Michael Zabala, faculty in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, and Hayden Burch, a sophomore in mechanical engineering. Additional engineering faculty and alumni joined the team to refine the mechanical design, control system, user interface, and alarm to have an improved design finished on Monday.

This is on top of the efforts of researchers, like UAH’s Jerome Baudry and UAB’s Frances Lund, who has been enlisted in the effort to find cures, treatments, and vaccines to fight COVID-19.

Economic developer Dr. Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter, “We all have our roles and can offer support amidst the COVID-19 crisis, and the higher education community has risen to the occasion. The brainpower and manpower supplied by Alabama’s colleges and universities demonstrate a willingness to serve and is greatly appreciated during this time of need.”

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UAB students helping healthcare workers

Brandon Moseley

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Most of America is spending more time at home and working to find something to stay occupied as our schools and workplaces are largely shut down in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus. For America’s hospitals, particularly the intensive care workers, their job has never been more stressful or more important.

215,300 Americans, as of press time, have been confirmed as being COVID-19. For most of them their illness will just mean flulike symptoms and two weeks at their house reading internet news sites and watching way too much bad daytime TV. Unfortunately for nearly ten percent of patients, COVID-19 will mean hospitalization, often in serious or critical condition. Currently 5,004 COVID-19 patients are in the fight of their lives. They can’t win their fight without a lot of help from the skilled doctors and nurses who have made medicine their life’s work.

Students with the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Health Services Administration are thanking those healthcare workers on the frontlines, while supporting the local restaurant businesses they love.

Through a partnership with Frontline Foods, the students are independently supporting local clinicians in the fight to keep our communities safe, while simultaneously supporting Birmingham’s local restaurant industry.

Frontline Foods began with independent groups in San Francisco and New York City with the same central idea. They help health care workers and local restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic, that has already claimed over 5,100 lives.

“As this crisis grows in scope and scale, we want to continue to push that mission forward by boosting the morale of our frontline warriors in need across our communities, all while helping local restaurants and their employees,” said Christina Fortugno, a critical care nurse, second-year Health Administration graduate student and MBA student within the department, and co-organizer of Frontline Foods Alabama.
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Fortugno and Bradley Tipper, another second-year MSHA and Health Informatics graduate student, decided the entire process of donating needed to be as transparent as possible.

100 percent of donations made to the Birmingham chapter of Frontline Foods through World Central Kitchen’s website will be used to sponsor meals prepared by our local restaurant community and delivered to local hospitals.

Fortugno and Tipper say their group will absorb all of the administrative overhead.

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“Being in the Health Services Administration program, we’ve been trained on how to support and help our providers,” Tipper said. “We knew that, even though we were about to leave Birmingham, we wanted to be a part of the solution here.”

In addition to providing meals to health care workers, care packages are another way community members are able to say “thank you” to the doctors, nurses, techs, environmental service workers and others. Care packages contain snacks, goodies and handwritten notes of encouragement, to be delivered to our health care heroes. You can purchase items to be included here.

“We are so inspired by the efforts of these leaders,” said Christy Lemak, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Health Services Administration. “They identified what was needed and quickly went to work to fill those needs right here in our community, and the fact that this helps both frontline caregivers and local restaurants is a fabulous ‘synergy’ that I think everyone can relate with as well. This is what servant leadership looks like. It’s great to see the students take charge in this way.”

Fortugno and Tipper began delivering these meals on March 30 to UAB’s Emergency Department. They hope to exp of COVID=1and their efforts to other Birmingham-area hospitals in the in the coming days and weeks.

Economic developer Dr. Nicole Jones said, “We all have our roles and can offer support amidst the COVID-19 crisis, and students within UAB’s Department of Health Services Administration certainly have stepped up to offer a kind gesture and boost morale during this time of need. And what a smart idea to order carry-out from local restaurants – small businesses can certainly use (and are appreciative of) the support right now, making this is a ‘win-win’ situation for all.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci of the White House’s coronavirus task force said recently that he expects “millions” of Americans will get COVID-19. Fauci expects more than 100,000 Americans will die. As these numbers grow, the strain on America’s healthcare workers will only continue to grow.


Based on an original report by UAB’s Adam Pope.

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