August 2012 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

Kids are back in school all across the state, and education news tops the headlines coming out of the capital.

  • 75 Percent of Schools Made Adequate Progress: The state Department of Education recently announced that Alabama’s schools and systems achieved adequate yearly progress. The “adequate yearly progress” standards measure how well schools are moving toward federal law’s goal of having all students proficient in math and science by 2014. Of its 1,365 schools, 342 failed to make adequate progress, down from 377 the year before. Only 26 of the state’s systems failed to make progress, down from 49 the year before. State School Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice said the numbers are headed in the right direction and described the overall scores as “very encouraging.”
  • Education Trust Fund Revenue on Track: TState Budget Director Bill Newton recently announced that education trust receipts are on target to meet spending for the current fiscal year, which ends September 30. He also predicted the General Fund, the major source of state money for non-education agencies such as prisons, Medicaid and Human Resources, should collect enough revenues to meet its trimmed spending target for the year without further cuts.  Finance officials say the growth in education revenue is currently at 5.9 percent. A growth rate of 5.6 percent for the year is needed to support appropriations for the year. The General Fund revenue grew by 18.5 percent in the current year, which factors in a $266.4 million windfall from the Alabama Trust Fund. The governor also trimmed General Fund obligations for the current year by prorating budgets 10.6 percent.
  • Search for Leader of Two-Year Colleges Underway: The state Board of Education recently voted unanimously to interview eight persons recommended by a consultant (who reviewed 29 applications) for the head of the state’s two-year college system. Governor Robert Bentley, who chairs the school board, said the board will conduct the interviews over a two-day period later this month and then invite three back for a second interview in mid-September. The previous chancellor made $289,000 annually, but the board has not decided what to offer the next chancellor. All of the interviews will be held in Montgomery and are open to the public.

August 2012 Group Watch: Alabama & Austal Agreement

Governor Robert Bentley announced a $5 million agreement between the state and Austal USA that will help the shipbuilder add up to 1,000 full-time jobs in Mobile. The agreement is a five-year project that will help the shipbuilder continue its workforce expansion with training assistance services from the Alabama Industrial Training program. Austal currently employs about 3,000 people to build Joint High Speed Vessels and littoral combat ships for the U. S. Navy. Under the current project agreement, that number is expected to grow by an additional 600. Once the new agreement is complete, the company expects to employ 4,600 in Mobile. Last month, Austal completed three buildings that total more than a half million square feet of additional manufacturing and office space as part of a $200 million investment.

August 2012 Group Watch: AG Defends Redistricting Decision

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange says the state asked a District of Columbia federal court to approve a redistricting plan for the Alabama Legislature because it is possibly quicker than seeking pre-clearance from the U.S. Justice Department. According to Attorney General Strange, assertions by Democratic legislative leaders that the Republican AG is asking the court to review the plan because he believes it will lead to the election of more Republicans are untrue. Strange said that last year the state filed suit asking the courts to approve Congressional and state school board lines, but the Justice Department went ahead and pre-cleared the districts.

August 2012 Group Watch: Principal Perspective

By Allen Sanderson

Now that school has started, we wanted to take this timely opportunity to highlight one of our clients: School Superintendents of Alabama. As Alabama’s association for school superintendents and their system leaders, the SSA gives these important figures in our education system a voice in the halls of government and is the only association in Alabama for all school superintendents and members of their leadership team. There are approximately 725 members, including 132 public school systems, individual, retired, associate and business members. Under the leadership of Executive Director Dr. Eric Mackey, SSA has proven a valuable addition to the discussion about the future of education in Alabama, fulfilling its mission of providing professional development for school superintendents and their leadership team and to serve as chief advocate for Alabama’s school children. In recent years, SSA has continued its work despite tough economic times, awarding several major scholarships annually that reinforce SSA’s primary purpose: to promote high quality public education throughout the state. In 2012, SSA gave $9,000 in student scholarships to students pursuing bachelor’s degrees in education as well as $4,000 in scholarships to teachers and administrators for graduate school programs. These scholarships are just one facet of the contribution SSA makes to Alabama’s education system. Another is its advocacy in the Alabama Legislature on behalf of the children and youth in every Alabama community who deserve a quality education. Through SSA, superintendents and school system leaders are helping policymakers make better funding and policy decisions when it comes to education. We at The Bloom Group are proud to help SSA accomplish its goals.

July 2012 Group Watch: Federal Judge Denies Siegelman New Trial

A federal judge has denied former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman a new trial on federal charges. U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller denied the motion by attorneys for the former governor as he has done for co-defendant Richard Scrushy. Siegelman and Scrushy were convicted in 2006 on charges that Scrushy arranged a $500,000 contribution to Siegelman’s campaign for a statewide lottery in exchange for the governor appointing Scrushy to a hospital regulatory board. The former governor will appear before Fuller for a new sentencing; his original sentence was to be more than seven years in prison. Siegelman is expected to receive a lesser sentence after a partially successful appeal in the federal judiciary.

Alabama Supreme Court Tosses $78M Verdict

The Alabama Supreme Court overturned a $78 million verdict the state won against drug manufacturer Sandoz, Inc. The court ruled 7-1 in an unsigned opinion that the case should not have made it to a jury, much less resulted in a verdict against the company. The state won the verdict in 2009 claiming the company made Alabama Medicaid pay too much for prescription medication over a 14-year period ending in 2005. The jury ordered the company to pay $28 million to compensate Medicaid for its losses and $50 million in punitive damages. The Supreme Court ruled that the state based its reimbursement payments on policy concerns and regulations and not on actions by the company.

July 2012 Group Watch: Alabama Judge Halts City’s Private Probation Practice

A judge in Columbiana (south of Birmingham) has temporarily shut down what he called a “debtors prison” run by the municipal court in Harpersville. Shelby County Circuit Judge Hub Harrington said the Harpersville Municipal Court repeatedly violated the rights of defendants that appeared before it. According to the preliminary injunction, defendants who were not able to immediately pay court-imposed fines and fees were turned over to Judicial Corrections Services. Many were later tossed in jail, which led to more charges that led to more fines, more court costs and more debt.  The order came as a result of a 2010 lawsuit.

July 2012 Group Watch: Alabama Education Fund to Avoid Cuts

The Alabama Education Trust Fund will collect enough state income taxes and other levies to meet its spending target for the fiscal year and avoid cuts in budgeted spending from proration. The trust fund collected $4.25 billion in October through June, an increase of $269.9 million or 6.8 percent, from the same period a year earlier, according to state finance officials. Tax collections by the trust fund, the main source of state tax dollars for public schools and colleges, need to grow by 5.6 percent in this fiscal year, which ends September 30, to reach this year’s budgeted spending. Lawmakers in May approved spending an additional $40 million from the trust fund in this fiscal year, putting it in a reserve, and spending it in fiscal 2013. Gross sales tax collections before payment of school bond debt and other deductions increased by 5.5 percent. Gross individual income tax collections before tax refunds increased by 4.3 percent. Net combined individual and corporate income tax collections were up 10.9 percent. According to finance officials, revenue collected by the General Fund increased by 21.8 percent from the same period a year earlier. The General Fund received a $266.4 million windfall from the Alabama Trust Fund, which gets most of the natural gas royalties paid the state by companies that pumped natural gas offshore.

June 2012 Group Watch: News & Views from the State House

Summer is here and session is out, but the Governor’s still staying busy.

Governor Signs Bill to Get Schools to Buy Locally: Governor Robert Bentley has signed into law a bill designed to make it easier for local farmers to sell produce to the state’s public schools. The Farm to School Procurement Act requires the state Agriculture Department and the State Department of Education to investigate the potential for schools to purchase local farm products. The new law also calls for schools to provide training to lunchroom staff on how to prepare the fresh food. The bill’s sponsor says the law will help children receive healthier meals and provide farmers with a new market to sell their produce.

Governor Promotes Homeowner’s Insurance Laws: Governor Bentley recently visited the Gulf Coast to promote new laws designed to make homeowner’s insurance more affordable after hurricanes drove up prices. One new law provides tax credits to insurance companies that write policies in certain areas of the state’s two coastal counties, Baldwin and Mobile. Another of the new laws allows Alabama-based companies to make new out-of-state investments, which is supposed to make operating in Alabama more attractive. One of the laws allows a homeowner to cancel a roofing contract within 10 days of signing the contract if the homeowner’s insurance company says it will not cover part or all of the cost. Insurance companies will be required to provide certain cost and rate information to the state Insurance Department, who will make it available online.

June 2012 Group Watch: Attorney General at Religious Freedom Rally

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange was the keynote speaker at a June 8 rally in Birmingham sponsored by an organization that opposes the Obama administration’s mandate that employers provide workers with birth control measures. Also speaking at the noon rally was Michael Warsaw, president of the Eternal Word Television Network. The director of the Birmingham Stand Up For Religious Freedom organization, Jim Pinto, said the rally was one of 156 similar events held on the same day around the country.

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