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Reform Plan Unveiled in Alabama

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Gov. Guy Hunt of Alabama has unveiled a sweeping education-reform plan that would revamp training and hiring standards for teachers and administrators, boost teacher pay, stress "fundamental skills" for students, and revise the state's school-funding formula.

Governor Hunt announced his proposals in a Nov. 19 speech to the Alabama Association of School Boards. He told the group that he wants to make the legislative session that begins Feb. 2 an "education summit.''

Although top state education officials and some lawmakers and heads of education groups praised the Governor's proposals, many questioned whether they could be implemented without raising additional revenues. In recent years, revenue shortfalls have forced Alabama to prorate its education budget.

But Mr. Hunt said anticipated growth in the economy would generate about $130 million in additional revenue next year, which he said was sufficient to finance the reforms.

Plan's Highlights

Highlights of the Governor's far-ranging plan, which will be presented to the legislature in a bill now being drafted, include:

Increasing teacher pay to the national average over five years.

Replacing the teacher-evaluation system required under the state's career-incentive program with locally devised evaluations. Instructors would be assessed every two years under the Governor's proposal.

Raising standards for admission to and graduation from teacher-education programs.

Adopting a certification examination "at least as stringent" as the National Teachers Examinations.

Creating pilot professional-development programs for teachers and principals.

Amending the state's tenure law "to give greater flexibility to local school boards." Principals and other administrators would not be tenured but hired by contract.

Raising student promotion and graduation standards at all grade levels in English, mathematics, science, history, geography, and computer-skills courses.

Initiating a pilot program of cash incentives to teachers and administrators to encourage them to raise their students' performance.

Extending the school year for teachers from 180 to 190 days, and for students from 175 to 180 days, over the next five years to meet the national averages.

Revising the state-aid formula to encourage districts to raise additional revenue locally. The new formula would also better reflect districts' actual costs and would increase support for vocational education and handicapped, gifted, and "at risk" pupils.

The Governor also called for a new system of school accreditation based on student performance, and the creation of a "division of accountability" in the state finance department to see that laws relating to education are enforced.

Financing Questioned

Superintendent of Instruction Wayne Teague endorsed the plan in a Nov. 25 statement. Mr. Hunt's initiative "captures the major elements that lead to quality instructional programs," the school chief said.

The Governor proposed "every good idea he's heard on education, said Paul Hubbert, executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association. "But most of this is going to cost a lot of money--money he appears unwilling to help fund at this point."

Edward Starnes, president of the Alabama Association of SchoolBoards, added that Governor Hunt's plan is "on the right track," but "the financial part of it is the most hazy."

Mr. Hunt said he wants to begin implementing the reforms before considering a tax increase.

He also reiterated his plan to have teams of educators, business leaders, and parents conduct a "quality inventory" of each school system, which would result in proposals for savings and improvements.

Mr. Teague praised the Governor's proposal to encourage increased local spending. But he said the state "has an obligation" to make extra funds available to low-wealth districts. "Alabama cannot have the economic development that it desperately needs if it continues to undereducate many of the children who constitute tomorrow's workforce," Mr. Teague said.

One of the most controversial aspects of Mr. Hunt's plan, apart from the funding question, is his proposal to eliminate tenure protections for principals and administrators.

Max Joiner, executive director of the Alabama Council for School Administration and Supervision, said eliminating their tenure rights could subject them to "personal and political reprisal and job intimidation" by elected school-board members and tenured teachers.

Under the plan, added Mr. Hubbert of the aea, future principals "would have to be more concerned about being politically well connected than strong instructional leaders."

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