Often lost among the more provocative and controversial bills that generate headlines and uproar during legislative sessions are the strong policy measures designed to address longstanding problems endemic to state government.
As Chairman of the House Education Policy Committee, I can attest that we have passed more than two dozen bills and measures to support our teachers and administrators, improve classroom instruction, and increase test scores and grades. in various subjects.
For the fourth consecutive year, the Legislative Assembly approved an Education Trust Fund budget with record funding, which at $8.3 billion is making historic investments in public kindergarten schools to grade 12, community colleges, and public four-year institutions, and each of these record budgets were implemented without having to declare the painful mid-year budget cuts known as proration.
It is important to note, in fact, that pro-rating occurred on average every two years when Democrats controlled the Legislature, but thanks to responsible budget practices that have since been put in place, pro-rating has been avoided. in each of the twelve years under Republican leadership. A generation of students and teachers will soon avoid the chaos that accompanies budget allocation.
The budget included the most generous pay increases given to public school educators in decades. Like other states across the country, Alabama is experiencing a dire teacher shortage, so enact both targeted salary increases for new instructors and substantial salary increases for veteran educators to help us recruit, retain and re-attract the staff we desperately need.
Additional incentives, such as improved pension benefits and loan forgiveness, have also been enacted to attract teachers to particularly hard-to-staff subjects like math and science and to geographic areas. where the needs are greatest.
Funding is increasing for the Alabama Reading Initiative, commonly referred to as ARI, and the Literacy Act, two innovative programs designed to increase reading scores statewide; the Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative; and the nationally recognized “First Class” pre-kindergarten program, which is the model for our new focus on orienting support teachers to grades K-3, were also included in the budget.
Recognizing the need to focus special attention on increasing math scores statewide, an entirely new education program was also created and funded by the legislature.
Recent standardized test results revealed that Alabama currently ranks 52nd in the nation in math scores, an especially embarrassing statistic considering there are only 50 states in the union. Only 22% of Alabama students were proficient in math on the 2021 ACAP state assessment, including only 11% of low-income students and 7% of black students. Additionally, 28 K-5 schools in Alabama currently have ZERO percent of math proficient students.
A state that designed the rockets that took men to the moon and is now home to factories that rely on cutting-edge engineering to make cutting-edge automobiles, planes and weapons should not content with his students wallowing in the depths of math skills.
The newly created Numeracy Act will follow the model established by proven programs like the ARI and the Alabama Literacy Act to focus educational resources on an obvious problem that needs to be solved.
Just as ARI increased reading scores statewide by placing specially trained reading coaches in public schools, the Numeracy Act will locate specially trained math coaches in areas where they are needed. It also allows the State Department of Education to intervene in schools that continue to perform below expected levels even after additional educational resources are in place.
A new Office of Math Improvement within the state Department of Education will be responsible for ensuring that students have met or exceeded proficiency in math by fifth grade, and it will be held accountable. results.
In the first major overhaul and reform of state mental health services since Governor Lurleen Wallace’s administration, the legislature passed a measure requiring every school system in Alabama to employ a health services coordinator. mental. This effort aligns with the findings of the state’s Emergency Task Force on School Safety and Security that I chaired in response to a series of school shootings across the country in 2018.
The COVID-19 pandemic lockdown and resulting home schooling for college students has certainly reinforced the importance of high-speed broadband internet access in rural Alabama. When circumstances require the use of courses and instruction through Zoom and other technology services, no student should be left behind because the necessary internet access is not available in the region where they reside. Much progress has been and continues to be made in this effort, and the Legislature has earmarked an additional $243 million to spur broadband expansion.
Additional bills such as those related to Accountability Act scholarships, which allow children from low-income homes to escape failing schools for those who succeed; the textbook selection process; English language learners; enrollment in public schools for families of transferred military personnel; cyber security; construction of schools; and others also passed this session.
While the media devotes the majority of the headlines and spotlight to measures that generate internet clicks and strong feelings among liberals and conservatives alike, please know that the House Education Policy Committee and my colleagues in the Legislative Assembly are constantly working to improve public education for students. , teachers and parents across the state.
Alabama is a special place to live, work, love, and raise a family, and taking our public schools to the next level will simply make an already great state even better.
Elected to represent Alabama’s House District 8 in 2010, state Rep. Terri Collins (R – Decatur) serves as chair of the House Education Policy Committee and serves on the budget drafting committee for K-12 public schools, colleges community and public universities.