12 Alabama Water Systems Have Had Lead Contamination since 2010. None Exceed Federal Limits Now.

Drinking water from 12 Alabama water systems has contained more lead than allowed by federal rules at various times since 2010, according to officials with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

Tests on drinking water have shown lead levels of up to 72 parts per billion, more than four times the 15 ppb federal limit. But no water system is currently in violation of federal rules for lead.

A study released earlier this week showed 5,300 water systems across the country were in violation of the federal rules for lead and copper in 2015. The study, conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council based on data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, was spurred by the discovery of widespread lead contamination of the drinking water in Flint, Michigan. Read more.

More and More Alabama Students Take Advanced Placement Courses. Will That Raise Achievement in the State’s Public Schools?

A growing number of Alabama high schoolers this spring took year-end exams for their Advanced Placement classes, hoping to make passing scores, earn college credits and ease their paths in higher education.

They are part of a steady expansion and emphasis on Advanced Placement classes in Alabama since 2008.

The change has been led by A+ College Ready Initiative, a public-private partnership between A+ Education Partnership and the Alabama State Department of Education. Read more.

Medicaid Reform Plan

There’s a new player in town for the 2016 Alabama Medicaid budget battle. It brings to the table a game plan, years of friendly relations with the other players and a multi-million-dollar stake.

The question is whether a reform idea, even backed with that history and funding, is enough to influence the entrenched model of politicians and advocates arguing over too little money, too much need and no fundamental change.

The player is Alabama Medicaid’s regional care organization plan, a managed care-style approach intended to deal with illnesses before they are emergencies and designed to both slow the growth in costs and improve health outcomes.

Read more:

Voter Guide

Alabama voters go to the polls March 1, and there’s a lot more on the ballot than the high-profile presidential race.

In Democratic and Republican primaries, voters will nominate candidates  for U.S. Senate and the state’s Public Service Commission president, Supreme Court and Board of Education, plus decide on an amendment.

Voters in Jefferson and Shelby counties will pick nominees for judgeships, school board seats, district attorney and treasurer offices.

BirminghamWatch and Weld For Birmingham, Public Radio WBHM 90.3 FM, Starnes Publishing, B-Metro and Kaleidoscope are collaborating to offer this one-stop, interactive, factual, non-partisan Voter Guide.

Candidate profiles, sample ballots, answers about issues, campaign contributor lists, info on where to vote and more. It’s all in the guide below.

It’s Not Just AEA Anymore. Alabama Legislators Draw National Lobbying Attention

Across the country, national companies and causes, from Uber to pharmaceutical manufacturers, are turning their lobbying power onto state legislatures where they seek a better chance of influencing decisions than in Washington. The Alabama Legislature, now in session in Montgomery, is no stranger to this new attention.

From 2010 through 2014, Alabama’s 140 senators and representatives were the focus of six times that many entities pushing their messages and protecting their interests in Montgomery.

These are findings of a just-released study by the Center for Public Integrity, a national government watchdog group.

ADEM, Northern Beltline, Clean Power, State Parks: Alabama Environmental Issues in 2016

Major decisions affecting environmental concerns in Alabama this year will be made in the courts and in the Legislature. Up in the air are questions about environmental regulation in Alabama, construction of the Northern Beltline in Jefferson County, the future of the state parks and the future of coal-fired power production here and across the country, among other issues. Here’s a rundown of some of the stories to keep an eye on in 2016.

Birmingham’s Economy 2016: Three Views

2016 could be a very good year for business expansion and employment in the Birmingham area, except ….

That’s a bottom line from conversations with people who have fingers on the economic pulse of the area: Andreas Rauterkus, Associate Professor in University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Collat School of Business; Devon Laney, President and CEO of Innovation Depot, and Art Carden, Associate Professor of Economics, Brock School of Business at Samford University.

On their lists of 2016 stories-that-matter on the local economy:

You’re going to the doctor more. That’s a good thing.
Healthcare and financial services are dependable pillars of the Birmingham economy, and 2016 should be a good year for those enterprises, Dr. Rauterkus says. Local unemployment is down from recession levels, and that helps healthcare. “People go to the doctor more,” he explains. In financial services, most Birmingham-area businesses have little international exposure which means

Education Issues to Follow in 2016

Keep your eyes on Montgomery advises Trisha Powell Crain, executive director of Alabama School Connection and contributor to BirminghamWatch. The governor, Alabama legislature and education officials face a full plate of decisions that affect classrooms throughout the state. Among important items, Crain says, are:

The RAISE Act

senatormarsh

Sen. Del Marsh. Photo, Office of President Pro Tem.

RAISE (Rewarding Advance in Instruction and Student Excellence Act) is still a draft proposal, not filed as a bill. It affects teacher evaluation, teacher pay and teacher tenure. An element in the draft calls for rating teacher effectiveness partly by student test scores. Del Marsh, Alabama Senate President Pro Tem, has circulated the draft to traditional players in setting education policy, including the Alabama Association of School Boards and the Alabama Education Association. This update last week is from Brian Lyman of the Montgomery Advertiser : Tenure bill greeted cautiously, raises some concerns

Education Trust Fund allocations

More dollars, millions more, are available to be budgeted for 2016-2017 than were allocated for the current fiscal year. The big question: What agencies and missions will get the new money?

Fine-Collection Company Stops Work in Alabama

Judicial Correction Services, the private probation company that charged Alabama’s poorest residents fees to collect municipal fines on a payment plan, announced it will no longer operate in the state. The company sent a statement to cities that continued to contract with JCS, despite a threat of lawsuits by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which led the push for cities to stop working with JCS.