Lawmakers representing Mountain Brook and Vestavia Hills met at Vestavia Hills City Hall on Nov. 15 to discuss education-related issues.
The 18th Annual PTO Legislative Forum, hosted by the PTOs of the City of Mountain Brook Schools and the City of Vestavia Hills Schools, included State Senator Dan Roberts, State Representative Jim Carns, State Representative David Faulkner and State. Re-elect Mike Shaw, who will represent House District 47 in Montgomery beginning in January. Longtime Senator Jabo Wagoner was unable to attend.
The representatives of the PTO took turns to ask the legislators present various questions on education.
Teacher shortages have been an issue across the country, and lawmakers have been asked how they would ensure both school systems can recruit and retain the best teachers.
Faulkner mentioned the 2021 law that created TEAMS, which offers STEM teachers up to $20,000 more each year and creates a different pay scale. Faulkner said he wanted to focus on teachers getting higher certifications and then making more money. He also spoke about the possibility of apprenticeship programs to engage high school students earlier in the education process.
Carns said there was no one-size-fits-all solution, which was echoed by Roberts.
Mountain Brook Superintendent Dicky Barlow has warned against relying too much on cash.
“There is a time when it’s not about the money; it’s a matter of culture,” Barlow said.
Teachers and administrators are “burnt out,” he said, and are being asked to do much more than they were 20 years ago.
The question of whether to fund charter schools with local tax money was also raised. Charter schools currently only receive state funding.
Roberts argued that while charter schools may not be needed here, there are parents in other parts of the state where traditional public schools are underperforming who would like the option of a charter school.
“I think we need competition in the education system,” Roberts said.
Carns said he would not want to divert local funds from traditional public schools.
Faulkner said charter schools are public schools and if parents choose to send their child to a charter school, their tax dollars should be allowed to go to that school.
“Should your money follow your child or the school?” Faulkner said.
Shaw said there had to be “creative solutions” but said he was reluctant to withdraw any funding from local schools. The concern in the Vestavia Hills and Mountain Brook area would be the opening of charter schools for different philosophical or political reasons, as opposed to academic needs, given the strength of the school districts above the mountain.
Barlow took a stand to take care of “the least of them” by funding and improving underperforming school districts.
Alabama Literacy and Numeracy Laws
With Alabama’s literacy and numeracy laws taking effect, PTO representatives have called for literacy and math coaches in schools to be fully funded to help achieve the government objectives in these areas.
The Literacy Act funded a reading interventionist for each school, but did not cover the full cost of salary and benefits, while the Numeracy Act covered the cost of a math coach, but only for some schools, said a PTO representative.
Faulkner said the state has funded and should continue to fund everything that is asked of it in education.
Carns said he supports the laws, while Roberts said strengthening education in the state is key to ensuring a positive future for children.
Both Mountain Brook and Vestavia are known for their strong school systems. So how do school systems and the state raise the bar for future generations?
“It’s local government, parent involvement and the community working together,” Roberts said. “It’s the crown jewel of the state, educationally.”
Roberts also said it was important to protect schools from the “woke” environment and ideology.
Faulkner compared Todd Freeman, superintendent of Barlow and Vestavia Hills City schools, to University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban, and said reaching the top wasn’t as difficult as d stay there.
“Keep hiring great teachers,” Faulkner said. “Focus on the things that make a tangible difference.”
Faulkner said the state is seeing great results from the Literacy Act and touted the Computer Science Act and other state initiatives for teacher training and development.
Shaw argued for making professional education a priority and called it a different path to college. It’s a way, he said, to involve more students.
Carns said preparing children for the future must start at home.
School Safety and Health
With several high-profile school shootings and a renewed focus on student health in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, PTO representatives have asked lawmakers if they support creating a post. in the state budget to fund school resource officers instead of just funding them locally. , as well as the idea of fully funding a nurse for each school.
Roberts said last year saw a record budget, with nearly $10 billion in state coffers, but there will be a dwindling amount of money available at some point, as dollars feds have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. So with the surplus the state currently has, it will likely be spent on one-time purchases rather than longer ongoing issues such as state funding of SROs.
“It’s a complicated mix,” Roberts said.
Roberts said he would need to see the tax memo and learn more about any proposal before deciding one way or another, but added he was supportive of the concept. He later added that he thought it would cost between $50 million and $85 million to fully fund an SRO in every school in Alabama from the state budget.
Shaw said having an SRO in every school is great, but schools also need to have a plan in place to keep students safe. He warned against a “one size fits all” approach to school safety.
On the issue of nurses, Roberts said the group was aimed at school nurses and said there had been a $9 million increase this fiscal year for nurses, a 22% increase from the financial year 2022.
Faulkner said he is confident funding for nurses will continue to increase.