October 2013                                                                                      http://parca.samford.edu  

Table of Contents
Alabama's First Class Pre-K Program
The Assertive Use of Executive Power
Alabama Students in a Global Context



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Greetings from PARCA!


PARCA's mission to improve state and local government encompasses a wide spectrum of issues. This month's edition of The PARCA Perspective does as well.
Below you will find informative articles on the Alabama Pre-K program, student test scores, and an analysis of important powers granted to the Governor to improve efficiency throughout the state.
I hope you find this information useful and join us in the discussion on improving the quality of life for Alabama's citizens. 
Jim Williams
Executive Director
Alabama's First Class Pre-K Program
Students who participated in Alabama's First Class Pre-K program academically outperform their peers once they reach elementary school, and the advantages conferred by pre-k participation persist at least through the 6th grade, according to findings from an ongoing evaluation of the program. PARCA's Research Coordinator Joe Adams is part of a team of researchers working with the Office of School Readiness in the Alabama Department of Children's Affairs to document the effects of the state's voluntary public pre-k program for 4-year-olds.

The research, which compares test scores of students who participated in the state's pre-k program with students that didn't, shows that the positive academic effects are particularly strong for pre-k participants who come from lower income households.  There is a persistent gap in academic achievement between students from low-income households and those from more affluent families. But for low income students who participated in the pre-k program that gap was about 25 percent smaller on average.

Alabama's First Class Pre-K program has been recognized for its high standards. The National Institute for Early Education Research finds that Alabama meets all 10 of its benchmarks for quality, including having high learning standards in place and requiring pre-k teachers to have a bachelor's degree and training in early childhood education.
This fall the program was expanded thanks to the Legislature's decision to increase pre-k funding from $19 million in 2012-2013 to $28 million in the 2013-2014 budget year.  Alabama's efforts on the pre-k front were held up as a model in recent coverage by The New York Times.
But even with the expansion, Alabama's public pre-k is relatively small. About 5,500 children will be served this year at 310 sites across the state, which equates to about 9 percent of the state's 4-year-olds. Nationally, 28 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled in state-financed pre-k. In Georgia, where a portion of the proceeds from the state lottery are devoted to the program, about 60 percent of four-year-olds are enrolled in public pre-k.
The Assertive Use of Executive Power
As Gov. Robert Bentley investigates allegations of questionable transactions at Alabama State University, his administration is invoking a little-used but particularly powerful tool in the chief executive's toolbox, Section 121 of the Alabama Constitution.
The powers described in this section give the Governor wide-ranging and constitutionally-based power to require reports from public bodies. Similar powers are given by law to the Governor's Finance Director. An administration willing to assertively wield those powers could be a potent force for the continual improvement of state government. PARCA has long advocated for using that authority to build a culture of strategic goal setting and performance into the operation of state government. Those powers can also be used both systematically and surgically to guard against mismanagement and to root out corruption.
Few, if any, chief executives in other states enjoy the same advantages for managing performance in the executive branch of government. But prior to Bentley, these powers have rarely, if ever, been used.
According to Section 121 of the Constitution of 1901, Alabama's Governor has the power to require state agencies, individually or as a group, to report on the performance and condition of their operations. The Constitution's Section 121 reads:
The governor may require information in writing, under oath, from the officers of the executive department, named in this article, or created by statute, on any subject, relating to the duties of their respective offices, and he may at any time require information in writing, under oath, from all officers and managers of state institutions, upon any subject relating to the condition, management and expenses of their respective offices and institutions. Any such officer or manager who makes a willfully false report or fails without sufficient excuse to make the required report on demand, is guilty of an impeachable offense.
Furthermore, the Governor's Finance Director has the authority to investigate performance within the executive branch of state government, as well as within counties, municipalities, and other governmental bodies such as school systems and educational institutions. This power is given by Section 41-4-36 of the Code of Alabama, which reads as follows:
The Director of Finance and any authorized officer or employee of the Department of Finance shall, in the performance of his official duties, for the purpose of examination, have access to, and the right to copy from, any book, record, account, document, receipt or paper of any of the departments, boards, bureaus, commissions, agencies, offices or institutions of the state or of any of the counties, municipal corporations, political subdivisions or public bodies in the state or of the officers or employees thereof, in such manner as may be reasonable and at reasonable times. The Director of Finance or any officer or employee of the Department of Finance designated by the director, in the performance of his official duties, shall have the power to administer oaths, certify to official acts, take and cause to be taken depositions of witnesses, issue subpoenas, compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of accounts, documents, receipts, papers and testimony.... In the event of the failure of any person to comply with any subpoena lawfully issued, or on the refusal of any witness to produce evidence or to testify as to any matter regarding which he may be lawfully interrogated, it shall be the duty of any court of competent jurisdiction or the judge thereof, upon the application of the Director of Finance or any officer of the Department of Finance designated by the director, to compel obedience by attachment proceedings for contempt, as in the case of disobedience of the requirements of a subpoena issued for such court or a refusal to testify therein. A willfully false material statement in any examination herein provided for shall constitute perjury and be punishable as such.
Taken together those powers give the Governor far more power to oversee the operations of state government than they typically exercise. The Governor's power in this area has existed since the ratification of the 1901 Constitution. The Finance Director's authority was created by law in 1939, as part of an effort to modernize the operation of state government.
Considering the swirl of claims and counter-claims in the ASU situation, the Governor's attempt to get to the facts through an audit is an appropriate response. However, it only hints at how the role the Governor's office could play in preventing problems and encouraging good management.
For instance, county commissions fall under the reach of the Governor's powers described above. In the wake of the bankruptcy of the state's largest county, Jefferson, the state should require regular reporting of county finances in a standardized form. One possible model for this would be the way the state operates when it comes to local school systems. The state sets minimum financial standards, requires the regular submission of data, and even intervenes when necessary. A consistent system of reporting for counties would also increase transparency for the public and would allow commissioners and citizens to see how their county is doing in comparison to others.
Alabama Students in a Global Context

In math and science, Alabama eighth grade students perform poorly compared to students across the country and across the world, according to a new study published this month by the National Center for Education Statistics.


The U.S. results are based on tests administered for the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress which are then compared to international assessments. Since Alabama students scored 50th out of the 50 states in Math on the 2011 NAEP, the results aren't surprising. Putting those scores in an international context, Alabama students were outscored by their peers in countries like Armenia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan and trailed far behind leading countries like Korea and Singapore.


The top U.S. state in math performance was Massachusetts, whose scores were in the neighborhood of the high-flying Asian countries. On the whole the U.S. average was above the international average. Southern states like North Carolina, Florida and Arkansas also beat the international average. Explore more results here.


It's worth noting that Alabama students have shown they can compete with students elsewhere. On the 2011 NAEP, the scores of Alabama 4th graders exceeded the national average. To see Alabama's profile within the study, click here.