April 14, 2024

Newparent

Veteran Baby Makers

What did the Alabama legislature do for schools and kids in 2022?

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Alabama lawmakers created a number of new laws that will impact K-12 classrooms now and in the future. Of the 100-plus education-related bills that The Alabama Education Lab tracked, the legislature approved 30. Most bills take effect three months from the date the governor signs them into law.

A number of key issues, like a record education budget, math instruction, teacher raises and delay of a provision that would hold back third-graders not reading on grade level were addressed by lawmakers. They were overshadowed by two laws passed on the final day of the session that opponents say are aimed at LGBTQ and transgender students, who are already marginalized and bullied at school. Other key GOP efforts, such as expanded school choice options and a ban on “divisive” concepts, did not pass.

Here’s a heads up on how your child’s classroom might be impacted as early as this month.

Math students should get 60 minutes of math instruction each day.

The Alabama Numeracy Act became effective immediately after Gov. Kay Ivey signed it for kindergarten through fifth grade. Schools will ramp up to meet rigorous requirements at the start of the 2023-24 school year.

What does that mean for your elementary-aged student? It should mean that beginning April 6 (the day after the bill was signed into law) your K-5 student is getting at least 60 minutes of math instruction each day.

Schools that qualify for extra help in math, based on test scores from this spring, will be identified by Aug. 1. The law outlines a full system of support for students and teachers, but much of the school-based support, including the placement of math coaches to help teachers, won’t start until the 2023-24 school year.

Summer help for kindergarten through fifth-grade students will be available in 2023.

Students can receive recognition for language biliteracy.

Students who become proficient in a world language like French or German or American sign language and who are also proficient in English will get a special designation on their high school diploma: the State Seal of Biliteracy. The idea, sponsors said, is to encourage students to become proficient in at least two languages. The seal will tell employers and colleges that the graduate is biliterate.

Children in military families can enroll in an Alabama school prior to moving.

Lawmakers made sure that children of military personnel can enroll in an Alabama public school prior to being a resident as long as a few conditions are met, including that the child’s parent is an active military member residing in Alabama. It becomes effective June 1.

Students cannot use a bathroom or locker room if it does not correspond to the sex assigned on their birth certificate.

Students in K-12 schools are prohibited from using a school bathroom or locker room that does not correspond to the sex assigned on their birth certificate. It will be up to teachers and other school staff to enforce the provision, and it’s unclear what disciplinary actions could be taken against students violating the provision.

Sponsors of the bill said they heard of students in schools using a bathroom that didn’t correspond with the gender assigned on their birth certificate. AL.com has been unable to confirm those allegations.

Educators can’t engage in classroom instruction or discussions of gender identity or sexual orientation that aren’t age- or developmentally-appropriate.

This passed on the final day of the legislative session, tacked on to the bill prohibiting students from using a bathroom that doesn’t correspond to the sex assigned on their birth certificate described above. The amendment was modeled after a paragraph from Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law.

The State Board of Education is charged with adopting rules for implementation and enforcement, which it will undertake soon, Alabama State Superintendent Eric Mackey said. In an interview with AL.com, Mackey said teachers may have to navigate “tricky conversations” if students bring up off-limits topics.

School personnel at public and private schools don’t have to immediately tell parents if a child questions their gender identity, but can’t withhold that information if a parent asks.

This requirement comes as part of a bill prohibiting doctors from prescribing and providing puberty blockers or hormone treatments to minors.

Within the bill is a provision that prohibits teachers, principals, counselors, and nurses from encouraging or coercing students to withhold from their parent or legal guardian if the student perceives his or her gender as different from their biological sex.

An additional requirement states school personnel cannot withhold information from parents or guardians if their child questions their gender identity.

State Superintendent Eric Mackey told state board members in late March that teachers do not have to tell parents or guardians immediately if a student shares questions about gender identity or sexuality — but if a teacher is asked, they cannot withhold that information.

The law becomes effective May 8, but a lawsuit has been filed to block implementation of this bill.

The following bills are waiting for the governor’s signature:

Students who can’t read will be given more chances to catch up.

As initially passed, part of the Alabama Literacy Act that requires third-graders who are not reading on grade level at the end of the year be held back.

Legislators decided to delay that specific piece until the 2023-24 school year — which means it will kick in for this year’s first-graders. Not everybody thinks that’s a good thing, and delays accountability for students who are currently behind, but lawmakers and Gov. Kay Ivey supported the delay after a tough two years of learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Teachers are going to continue to comply with all other parts of the Literacy Act, including screening children for dyslexia and providing summer school for students in kindergarten through third grade that aren’t reading on grade level, among others.

Families are still expected to help their young children learn how to read, too. Teachers will send home reading plans for students not on grade level and really need families to implement those reading plans. If signed, it becomes effective immediately.

Students, teachers will keep access to a mental health services coordinator.

All school districts will have a mental health services coordinator to help students with mental health issues after lawmakers agreed to fund a coordinator next school year for every school district and public charter school. The coordinator helps connect students with counselors, social workers and mental health professionals.

Parents must give schools permission to offer mental health services to their children and can revoke permission at any time. If their child receives mental health services, parents will be kept informed of diagnoses and recommendations for counseling or treatment. Parents will have the final say in which treatments are provided.

Students have struggled during the pandemic, and mental health services have become essential for schools to offer, according to experts.

Currently, 112 school districts receive $40,000 toward funding a coordinator, short of the $50,000 average salary for the field. If signed, the provisions of the law become effective in July, but funding for coordinators won’t be available until Oct. 1.

Students in some schools will gain free menstrual hygiene products.

Fifth through 12th grade students in Title I schools will now be able to access feminine hygiene products at school if the school requests grant funds from the state department of education. Sanitary napkins and tampons will be made available from a female school counselor, female nurse, or female teacher selected by the principal. If signed, the law becomes effective Aug. 1.

More scholarship money for low-income students.

A program to support low-income students to attend private schools now allows contributors to count 100% of their donation to a scholarship granting organization, up to $100,000 for individuals and no limit for corporate taxpayers. SGOs had to drop about 1,200 of the nearly 4,100 scholarships statewide due to lower donations during the pandemic. The number of students using scholarships through the program is around 2,600 for the current school year.

The annual limit for total tax credits remains $30 million. If signed, the bill is effective for all tax periods after Dec. 31, 2021.

English learners will be given more time before achievement scores count on the school’s report card.

Students who are English learners and are not proficient on the English language arts portion of the state’s achievement test will not have their test scores included in the academic achievement portion of the school’s A-F yearly report card. That only applies for the first five years the student is enrolled.

English learners’ growth on state achievement tests will be included in the calculation as will a measure related to progress toward English language proficiency.

A through F report cards were suspended for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, but a grade will be issued for all schools for the 2021-22 school year. The bill becomes effective as soon as the governor signs it.

Here’s what could have impacted classrooms but didn’t receive final approval from lawmakers.

The Parent’s Choice Act, a bill to give all parents of school-aged access to a $5500 Education Savings Account–the amount the state funds per student for education–to use for private school tuition, educational services, and other eligible expenses–was sidelined early in the session. Instead, lawmakers created a bipartisan commission to study school choice in Alabama.

A bill to prohibit educators and trainers from “compelling” students and state workers to agree with certain topics related to race, gender and religion passed the House but failed to garner Senate support before the end of the session.

More than 40 states across the nation have passed similar legislation seeking to limit discussions on race and racism in the classroom in the past year. The efforts snowballed last summer, as concerns about so-called critical race theory in the classroom became a political flashpoint for conservatives nationwide.