Ala. Governor Sets School-Improvement Agenda

By Deborah L. Gold — October 14, 1987 3 min read

Gov. Guy Hunt of Alabama, following through on a promise he made soon after taking office, has unveiled the broad outlines of a plan to overhaul the state’s education system.

In his state-of-the-state address last April, Mr. Hunt listed as the najor business of the 1988 legislative session a “comprehensive and structural reorganization and reform of our entire system of education, from kindergarten through higher education.”
While providing few details of his reform plan, the Governor said in a televised speech Sept. 29 that its centerpiece would be a “quality inventory” of every school in the state. He said the inventories would serve as a basis for determining problem areas, adopting plans for improvement, and timetables for action.

The Governor said he was also working on a plan to reorganize the governance of state higher-education institutions to better coordinate and target resources, but he offered few details.

Management Improvement

The review plan Mr. Hunt said he envisioned for elementary and secondary schools would be modeled after his Alabama management-im4provement program, which has enlisted private-sector support and expertise in an effort to help government agencies cut costs and run more efficiently.

That program, launched in February, already has netted almost $30- million in new revenue and cost savings, according to a state spokesman.

In his televised speech, the Governor proposed a similar program for schools that would bring together local business leaders, state and district-level administrators, teachers, parents, and other experts to ''take a good hard look at how our schools are doing.” The district-level review teams would make recommendations for improvement and detail both the costs involved and how they should be divided among state, local, and private-sector sources.

Mr. Hunt has asked the leaders of his management-improvement program to study the feasibility of such an effort, which he said no other state has attempted.

A primary goal of the plan, Mr. Hunt said, would be to focus public attention on the condition of schools in order to bolster support for reform efforts.

“I reject the idea that we must throw more and more money at our schools, ... that if we can only spend, spend, spend ... we can solve all our problems,” he said. Alabamians, he noted, have “repeatedly rejected new taxes to support schools.”

The Governor indicated, however, that citizens would be more likely to approve such measures if the school-review teams could prove that education dollars have been well spent but fall short of needs.

Paul Hubbert, executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ organization, said the study may not tell educators anything new about deficiencies in student achievement, school facilities, class sizes, and teacher pay. But he said he would support the plan if its aim was to highlight problems and garner public support for reform.

Lawsuit Advances

Mr. Hubbert is currently embroiled in a lawsuit that may affect state education resources. A trial date of Nov. 5 has been set for a suit he and his wife filed as individual taxpayers contesting the diversion by the legislature of $61 million in education aid to a variety of state projects that do not directly benefit schools and colleges. (See Education Week, Sept. 9, 1987.)

The Hubberts failed in their bid for a temporary injunction to stop the shift from taking effect on Oct. 1, the start of the new fiscal year, and resolution of the dispute has been slowed by several developments.

Responding to a motion by Robert Sasser, a lawyer representing Comptroller General Robert Childree, Montgomery County Circuit Judge Mark Kennedy has agreed to bow out of the case because he is the brother-in-law of George Wallace Jr., who is state treasurer and a defendant. Another judge has been appointed.

Mr. Sasser recently filed a second motion on behalf of Mr. Childree, asking the court to add as defendants the 20 agencies now receiving the disputed funds.

State officials say some of the agencies would have to curtail services or close down if Mr. Hubbert wins his suit, but the aea leader argues that their funding should be approved in separate bills, rather than being taken from the education trust fund.

A version of this article appeared in the October 14, 1987 edition of Education Week as Ala. Governor Sets School-Improvement Agenda