Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed, R-Jasper, has stated his commitment to be a voice for educators during this week's legislative session.Reed recently held meetings with educators he represents in …
Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed, R-Jasper, has stated his commitment to be a voice for educators during this week's legislative session.
Reed recently held meetings with educators he represents in District 5 (Walker, Winston, Fayette, Jefferson and Tuscaloosa counties) to hear their pressing concerns and suggestions to strengthen education.
The largest meeting was held roughly two weeks ago during a nearly four-hour session at Bevill State Community College, where five educators and one administrator from each school system he represents attended.
"It winds up being a great opportunity for significant dialogue between us," he said.
Reed said one of the biggest highlights of their time together was hearing educators express their frustration with testing requirements that limit general classroom instruction.
"Educators talked about the significance of a lot of paperwork, a lot of testing requirements, a lot of things that take time away from their mentorship and their teaching time directly with students," Reed said. "It seems like you've got some new thing all the time, so that makes for an increase in training and requirements. I feel for teachers."
While the Alabama State Department of Education implements all testing methodologies, Reed said he certainly wants to encourage them to stay with particular testing companies and methods for a longer period of time.
"The Legislature, we have influence because we're allocating state tax dollars," he said "I have an opportunity to express myself to the state school board because we're allocating resources for the school system."
When the Daily Mountain Eagle has attended meetings of the Walker County and Jasper City boards of education, administrators have stated that constantly being required to switch methodologies makes it difficult to track student progression and get a true measure of retention.
Growing Pre-K opportunities
Reed also spent a great deal of time talking to educators about the state's First Class Pre-K program. He said teachers and administrators praised the program and gave suggestions on how to make it even better.
First Class Pre-K allows Alabama 4-year-olds to begin their educational journey early at no charge, and many First Class Pre-K classrooms have been funded in Walker County by the state.
Reed said he wants to push for more funding of the program, adding that there was a funding increase for First Class Pre-K last year of $18 million.
In Gov. Kay Ivey's State of the State address on Tuesday, she proposed an increase to the First Class Pre-K program of $25 million, which would bring total funding to $120 million annually and create 193 more classrooms across the state.
"It's statistically one of the most successful in the nation. It has been widely acclaimed," Reed said of First Class Pre-K.
Educational leaders from other states have reportedly visited Alabama in hopes of learning how they can implement First Class Pre-K in their own states.
A 'very sad and concerning topic'
Educators had a lengthy discussion with Reed about the need for mental health services in schools.
"To think of the growth in requirement of mental health and psychological issues that are affecting our children, even in elementary school, was something that was difficult for me to hear," Reed said. "There's going to have to be some increased funding on mental health."
Reed said he thinks there are many strategies to help students who may need emotional support, for example by encouraging further training for counselors.
He said it could also be beneficial for agreements to be made between school systems and mental health centers to offer youth services and support.
Another potential pay increase
"I mentioned to them that I think in this year's budget ... there is the potential for another salary increase at some level for educators in the next budget cycle. Of course, they were happy to hear that," Reed said.
Last year's education budget was $6.6 billion and has increased to $6.75 billion this year. According to Reed, it is the largest tax payer funded education budget in the history of Alabama.
Ivey proposed a 4 percent cost of living increase for educators in her State of the State address Tuesday, as well as a $75 million increase in state funding for four-year colleges and universities.
Other needs to be addressed
Reed also expressed a number of other issues he would like legislators to tackle.
He said teacher retention is going to be of high importance in the coming years, citing a shortage of educators, particularly in the subject areas of math, science and special education.
Legislators are also exploring standards for the credentials individuals must have to be a career technical education instructor.
"We talked about that, making sure that we're not applying an academic standard but that we're more applying an industry standard," he said.
Last but not least, Reed said he wants additional financial means for school security.
"We spent right at $41 million, new money, in school security resources that primarily went to school boards and superintendents to determine how best to utilize those resources in securing their school facilities," he said.
Reed stressed it will be important for each school system in the state to determine which security plan will best fill their needs and implement it.