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Alabama Accountability Act: Supporting Christian Schools With Public School Money

by: countrycat

Mon Apr 20, 2015 at 14:12:53 PM CDT

Far from being a lifeline for eager learners stuck in so-called "failing" public schools, the Alabama Accountability Act instead appears to be a cash cow for several hundred private religious schools. What's more, a bill pending in the legislature would amend the AAA to allow the state to fund annual "scholarships" of up to $10,000 each for students to attend these private schools. That's almost twice the average per-pupil spending ($5828) given to Alabama's public schools.


These are the same people who say that "throwing money" at education won't do any good.  Except that what they really mean is that adequately funding public schools isn't on their agenda.  They'd rather pay more for a select few to attend private - mostly Christian - schools than give public schools the same funding and flexibility that private schools have.

Actually, "mostly Christian" is a gross understatement. Look at the AL Department of Revenue list of private schools participating in the AAA (PDF).  Of the 123 schools on the first three pages, only 11 lack an explicitly Christian focus or Christian-oriented school curriculum.  That's 9%.  The numbers don't improve as you move through the rest of the list either.

Note: I'm not insinuating that all the religious schools (or even most of them) provide a poor education.  They may be great schools, but they do teach from an explicitly Christian viewpoint - and they're receiving money to help promote a religious agenda that would otherwise be destined for public education.

Supporters will tell you that this is not "public money" but rather "donations" given to "Scholarship Granting Organizations" (SGOs) that distribute scholarships.  However: a tax-credit does what exactly?  It lowers your taxes and thereby the tax revenue of Alabama. As Larry Lee pointed out last week, there's a very real cost to Alabama public schools:

Presently the cap on SGO contributions is $25 million.  The senator would like to increase this to $30 million.  (An SGO donor gets a dollar for dollar tax credit on their state tax liability for all money given an SGO up to a certain percentage. Each dollar contributed to an SGO is a dollar that does not go into the education trust fund.  So a dollar that goes to an SGO is a dollar not available for public schools.)

Senator Del Marsh's amendment (SB-71) takes a bad situation and makes it worse. It's not bad enough that the legislature would rather drain public education money than fix public education.  But he now wants the state to help fund religious private school tuitions in amounts that far exceed the average amount we spend on public school kids.

Somebody's making some serious money here and it's not public school teachers:

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Legislators Aren't Telling The Truth About Alabama Accountability Act Amendment

by: countrycat

Fri Apr 17, 2015 at 12:00:00 PM CDT

We have all been told that one should never watch either legislation or sausage being made.  Having grown up long ago on a south Alabama farm, I took part in more than a few "hog killins" and know all about making sausage.

GOP Alabama Accountability Act 

I've also witnessed legislation being birthed in more than 40 years of visiting the Alabama legislature.

And speaking from first-hand knowledge, I'll take the sausage making any day.  This point has been driven home forcefully in the last few weeks as both House and Senate committees have debated amending the Alabama Accountability Act. It has been nothing less that excruciatingly painful to listen as the truth was abused, twisted and just plain ignored by the proponents of this legislation.

Let me say that I understand being a legislator is difficult because you are bombarded by dozens of issues and being an expert on any and all is an impossibility.   In addition, legislators have virtually no staff to research issues for them, give them briefings and pass along information.

By the same token, those sponsoring legislation are often not as aware of its nuances as you would hope they might be.  Instead, they are depending on some special interest to give them sound guidance and good advice.

Still, this doesn't make untruths any less untrue. For example:

  • Senate Majority Leader Del Marsh is the sponsor of an accountability act amendment.  He has been asked repeatedly if there is a relationship between the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund, set up by former Governor Bob Riley, and a scholarship granting group in Florida known as Step Up For Students.Each time he has said he is unaware of any. 
  • All non-profits must file a yearly 990 report with the IRS. 
  • The most recent such report by Step Up For Students clearly identifies the Riley SGO as a subsidiary of theirs.  You find on page 46 of this report that the Florida organization is the "direct controlling entity" for the Riley SGO.  Also, both the CEO and the CFO of Step Up For Students are two of the six Riley board members.
  • The accountability act allows all SGOs to retain five percent of their donations for administrative purposes.  Senator March says this is the lowest such rate in the country.  But on page seven of the financial audit of the Florida group dated 6-30-14 you find that their administrative charge is only three percent.

Senator Marsh's amendment would allow Alabama SGOs to pay up to $10,000 for a scholarship for a high school student.  He defends this as being a good steward of money because a limit is designated.  But he fails to note that according to the Step Up For Students web site, their maximum scholarship is $5,272.  Nor has he pointed out that the average state funding for all public school students is presently $5,828 each

So he is urging us to spend up to $4,175 more on a private school student than one in public school.

Presently the cap on SGO contributions is $25 million.  The senator would like to increase this to $30 million.  (An SGO donor gets a dollar for dollar tax credit on their state tax liability for all money given an SGO up to a certain percentage. Each dollar contributed to an SGO is a dollar that does not go into the education trust fund.  So a dollar that goes to an SGO is a dollar not available for public schools.)

In promoting his bill at a recent hearing before a House committee, Senator Marsh held his thumb and forefinger about an inch apart and told the committee, "We're just talking about a small amount of money."

I nearly fell out of my seat because where I come from $25-$30 million is not a "small amount of money."  Wonder if the good senator would care to tell a school librarian who has not had new books purchased by the state since 2008 that $25 million doesn't count.

Let's end where we started, back on the farm with the pigs.  It is also said that you cannot  put enough lipstick on a pig to cover up the fact that it is still a pig.  The same is true of the accountability act and the proposed amendment, you just can't put enough lipstick on it.
Larry Lee led the study, "Lessons Learned from Rural Schools," and is a long-time advocate for public education and frequently writes about education issues.  larrylee33@knology.net

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SB-71 Alabama Charter School Legislation: "Follow The Money"

by: countrycat

Mon Apr 06, 2015 at 10:27:49 AM CDT

Even an amateur swami with a cloudy crystal ball could have told us how the recent vote to approve charter schools in Alabama would play out.  In fact, he didn't even have to look at his ball, they could have looked at 2014 campaign financial disclosures instead.

There they would have found a trail of contributions of thousands and thousands of dollars from charter supporters to friendly legislators.

This bill passed the Senate 22-12 the first time it was voted on.  One senator did not vote, eight Democrats voted against it, as did the one Independent and three Republicans.  All yes votes were Republican.

The "Big Three" donors supporting charters last year were:

  • Bob Riley's Alabama 2014 PAC
  • Business Council of Alabama's Progress PAC (run by Billy Canary)
  • Speaker Mike Hubbard's Storm PAC. 
These three have also been strong supporters of the Alabama Accountability Act.

Together, they spent $5.1 million dollars in 2014 in hopes of having friendly politicians in place.  Obviously their plan worked well.  This money came from an assortment of sources.  While BCA depends on their Alabama members for support, the Riley and Hubbard PACs cast a wider net and got checks from across the country.  Companies such a Pfizer, General Electric, Anheuser Busch, Cemex and International Paper donated.  As did pay day lenders and  charter supporters like StudentsFirst and K12.

And while BCA did contribute $37,500 to 11 incumbent Democrats (10 of them House members), Riley and Hubbard only supported Republicans.

Let's take a closer look at how the pot was split in the Senate.

  • None of the eight Democrats or the lone Independent who voted against charters got a penny from Riley, Hubbard or BCA. 
  • The Republican who did not vote got $1,000 and the three Republicans who voted "nay" got a total of $77,000, mostly from BCA.
  • Of the 22 Republican "yea" votes, one who few thought would win, got nothing.
  • Of the remaining 21, six had either no opposition or token opposition. They only received $8,000 total. 
  • The remaining 15 got $987,815 in all, an average of $65,854 each.  However, some were more equal than others as five got more than $100,000 each.

In addition to contributions from the "Big Three," StudentsFirst, a Sacremento, CA group with 10 lobbyists in Alabama, spent $61,958.  And the Alabama Federation for Children, which was solely supported by checks from millionaires in California, Michigan and Arkansas spent $101,748.  Evidently "Alabama values" include California millionaires.

In all, the 15 senators who had substantial challenges got $1,142,522 from the charter supporters just mentioned for an average of $76,168.

Of course, every legislator says they are representing "the home folks."  But when you see who is paying the bills to get them elected, you have to wonder who they are really listening to.

Editor's note: In looking at hundreds of pages of financial reports, the most interesting thing I came across were two letters.  One from July 11, 2014 from the treasurer of the Riley PAC to candidate Clyde Chambliss of Prattville and a follow up of July 30, 2014 from Chambliss to the PAC. he first informed the candidate that he should disclose $8,500 for polling and $35,916.79 for mail pieces. 

The reply from Chambliss explained that he had no knowledge what the Riley group was doing and  had not asked for their help.  He also stated that he did not appreciate the nature of the mail pieces since they were attacks on his opponent, were contrary to his promise to run a positive campaign and were costing him support.

Republican Chambliss won the seat and did not vote for the charter bill when it first came to the Senate floor.

Larry Lee led the study, Lessons Learned from Rural Schools, and is a long-time advocate for public education.  larrylee133@gmail.com

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SB-71 - Amendments Show Alabama Accountability Act's Real Purpose

by: countrycat

Sat Mar 28, 2015 at 10:04:01 AM CDT

It is said that "confession is good for the soul."  With this being the case, the legislators who wrote the Alabama Accountability Act in 2013 are now sleeping better. When this bill was written the people of Alabama were told over and over that the purpose was to "help kids stuck in failing schools by their zip codes."  In fact the codified version of this bill says on page 2 that it is intended to, "Provide financial assistance through an income tax credit to a parent who transfers a student from a failing public school to a nonfailing public school or nonpublic school of the parent's choice."

However, anyone knowledgeable about Alabama education quickly realized that this was unlikely at best because the bill was not supported by either research or common sense and was built on false assumptions.

Now proposed amendments to the accountability act (SB-71)have been introduced in the current legislative session that remove any doubt the intent  was always about tax breaks--not helping kids in failing schools.

Records from 19 school systems with 34 failing schools show that only 40 students in these schools got a scholarship.  Yet, one scholarship granting organization (SGO) says they have awarded 969 scholarships in the counties where this 19 systems are located.
The only way this is possible is by giving scholarships to students who are not attending failing schools or who are already enrolled in a private school.  In fact this same SGO says they have given out scholarships in 23 counties where they are no failing schools.

The synopsis of the new bill now states "confirm that the intent of the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013 is educational choice." 
So two years later we want to unring the bell and publicly acknowledge what many have known all along--that this legislation was never about "helping kids stuck in failing schools by their zip code."

In its original form, the accountability act amendments propose that the state:

  • Raise the cap on individual contributions.
  • Increase the cap on SGO contributions from $25 million to $35 million.
  • Make tax credits retroactive.
  • Move the cutoff date from Sept. 15 to May 15 so that it will be easier for more students from non-failing schools to get scholarships.

In the first year (2013) all SGOs in the state raised $24,787,079 of the $25 million maximum.  In 2014 all SGOs only raised 53 percent ($13,414,758) of the $25 cap.  Yet, the sponsor of the bill now wants to increase the cap by $10 million.

The reason this is important is that every dollar donated to an SGO is a dollar that does not go to the Education Trust Fund, the same fund that has not bought a new library book for any school in Alabama since 2009.  The same fund that has cut funding for new textbooks by 50 percent since 2008.

Amy Hiller is the principal at Meek Elementary in Arley in Winston County.  This is a great school of about 225 children.  Nearly 70 percent of them are on free and reduced lunches.   Amy recently bought new math textbooks.  But to do so, she had to raise $30,000 to pay for them.  Raising this much money in a rural town of a few hundred  people is not easy.

I know Amy well.  Have been to her school many times.  Given the fact that resources are not presently adequate to support her school as it should be, why are we even talking about diverting even more money from the education trust fund?  How do you rationalize this?

There are 733,000 students in Alabama public schools.  Each of them is just as special as any who may get a scholarship.  Why do you try to help a handful of them at the expense of all the others?  

If one end of the boat is leaking, it does no good to move to the other end.  Let's remember all the public school children in this state.  Let's patch the hole instead of going to the other end, which is all the accountability act does.

Larry Lee led the study, Lessons Learned from Rural Schools, and is a long-time advocate for public education.  larrylee133@gmail.com

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The State Democratic Party Is Quiet, But House Democrats Come Out Swinging

by: countrycat

Sun Mar 22, 2015 at 19:04:25 PM CDT

House Minority Leader Craig Ford's recent post on Facebook brought a smile to my face. After waiting months in vain for the state party leadership to even issue a press release, at least our legislators are fighting the good fight.Craig Ford

Just look at how many of them stood up for equality during the HB-56 debate. (Review Mia's excellent liveblogging of the debate.) The House debate on the charter school bill was similarly hard fought.

We've said here for years - when our Democratic legislators didn't bother to show up for committee hearings or important votes - that "just because you'll probably lose, that's no reason not to take a stand."

Today, Ford offered this:

"Would You Rather Have A Democrat’s Lottery Or Republicans’ Taxes?"

This week is the legislature’s Spring Break, and we are now almost a third of the way through the legislative session. And as last week came to an end, legislative leaders were quick to congratulate themselves on passing their legislative agenda.

I’m sure the taxpayers will be relieved Republicans were able to pass their “Alabama First” agenda. I mean, sure, maternity wards across the state are closing and leaving thousands of mothers without nearby prenatal care and delivery services, but at least we brought back the electric chair.

And, sure, there are hundreds of children in Alabama waiting to be adopted by loving parents but can’t because of budget cuts to the Department of Human Resources. But at least judges won’t be forced to participate in gay weddings. Oh wait, nobody was making them do that anyway.

Well at least now we passed the “Truth in Salary Act” so all those educators and state employees will finally know how much they are getting paid! I mean, sure, there are counties in Alabama that don’t have a single state trooper to patrol them, and many of the state troopers we do have are driving vehicles with more than 200,000 miles on them. But all that has to take a backseat to more bureaucracy and paperwork so that we can make sure our bureaucrats know how much they are getting paid (because apparently they are smart enough to teach our children, but not smart enough to read their own paystubs).

Yes, the Republican leadership has passed their legislative agenda. But what they have not done is offer any real solutions to the very real problems Alabama is facing.

Take, for example, the charter school bill. Let’s assume that every charter school is wildly successful. Even then, there would still be thousands of children still stuck in failing schools. Charter schools and the Accountability Act are not solutions to failing schools. They are escape options from failing schools.

And that is the problem with the leadership in Montgomery: they don’t try to solve problems; they try to run away or hide from problems. But now Alabama is facing some problems that we can’t run away from anymore.

The General Fund budget is facing a hole of at least $265 million. And if we try to pay back all the debt we owe, the budget hole is really closer to $700 million.

After the last four years of gutting our state government, we simply cannot fill the budget hole with more cuts to government. We have “right-sized” to the point of budgetary anorexia. The only way to allow our government to continue to function is with more revenue.

Before the legislative session began, Gov. Bentley proposed a tax package that would raise about $541 million. And to his credit, he included certain proposals, such as increasing the tobacco tax and closing certain corporate tax loopholes that benefit out-of-state corporations and the expense of Alabama business owners, which have been part of the Democratic Party’s agenda for years.

It’s no surprise the Republican leadership in the legislature hasn’t supported the governor’s proposals. They don’t want to be seen supporting anything Democrats have been calling for, and that’s fine. But if they don’t want to consider our ideas, they should at least offer some of their own!

The legislature cannot run away and hide any more. The Republicans wanted to be in leadership, and now it’s time for them to step up and offer solutions.

Of course, if they won’t consider Democratic proposals, then that only leaves one option: raising taxes. Now they won’t call it tax increases. They will call it “enforcement of existing tax laws” or “eliminating deductions”, but the bottom line is that you will be paying more of your hard-earned money in taxes.

Before we start raising taxes, we should at least consider voluntary revenue raising measures like a lottery, a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians and raising the tobacco tax.

The legislative fiscal office estimates that a lottery could raise up to $280 million in new revenue, while raising the tobacco tax by a dollar could generate another $225 million. A compact with the Poarch Creek Indians could generate another $30-50 million.

All of these options are voluntary. People can choose to quit smoking or not to gamble. So why not vote on these measures first? Then, if more money is needed, we can look at other proposals.

If the Republican leadership in the legislature doesn’t offer a solution soon, then you know what their solution will be. The question is: would you rather have a Democrat’s lottery or Republicans’ taxes?

Now, I'm a total lottery skeptic.  Refer to our five-part series on state education lotteries for some of the problems with that as a revenue source.  But Ford is correct that this is possibly the only new revenue opportunity that could get past the legislature and Alabama voters.

Politics is, as Bismark noted, "the art of the possible."  If this is what it takes to shore up our state's safety net, it might be the best of all the bad solutions we have on the table.


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Charter School Bill Passes Legislature Without Needed Amendments

by: countrycat

Thu Mar 19, 2015 at 12:50:11 PM CDT

Got a question about politics in Alabama? "Follow the money" is the best answer you'll get, and it's surely the explanation of what happened yesterday in the Alabama House. With indicted Speaker Mike Hubbard presiding, and his checking account already fattened by a $7500/month consulting contract from a charter school company, our legislators passed the charter school bill and rejected an amendment that would have prevented legislators from having any financial relationship with charter school operators. 


Decatur Rep. Collins wouldn't even allow Rep. Mary Moore from Birmingham to finish describing the amendment before shutting her down.  Collins said she "hadn't seen the amendment," and so she wanted it tabled. Now, it's not hard to pass out a copy of an amendment that's essentially a couple of sentences long.  Still, the assembly voted to table Moore's motion without even discussing it.

Perhaps Hubbard & Marsh prefer the "Michigan model" for Alabama's charter schools:

Only two years after the state’s first charter schools opened, Michigan officials sounded an alarm that charter school laws were inadequate to prevent rogue operators from scamming the system for their benefit. But the Legislature failed to act until passing a law in 2011 that still leaves huge loopholes.

Follow the money.

It's interesting that Collins' sudden interest in the bill's content and the content of an amendment came after a dust up with Huntsville Rep. Laura Hall.  

Early in the debate, Hall pointed out that the copy of the bill's amendments she received in committee had different wording than the copy that Collins had on the floor.  What was up with that? The ensuing scramble led to a huddle on the House floor that lasted almost half a hour.

When Hall took the floor again, she announced that "a third party" outside the Legislature was making changes to the bill. Charter school supporters shrugged.  So what? That was no big deal, but Moore's amendment about legislators profiting from charters couldn't even be debated.

Follow the money.

Selma Rep. Darrio Melton said it best in response to assertions that the charter school bill was primarily designed to give parents and students "more choices" and educational options.

"This is about taking money from one bank account and moving it to another bank account."

Except the bank accounts in this case will no doubt be the for-profit charter school management companies that make big bucks on other states. This salary data is something that charter school companies like to keep secret. Some Philadelphia parents & public schools had to scramble at the beginning of this year to accommodate a number of students from a charter school that closed abruptly due to financial problems:

Over the years, Palmer has faced criticism that executives were too highly paid and that management employed nepotism in hiring.

According to the most recent two years of tax returns filed with the nonprofit database GuideStar.org, Palmer's daughter Dara worked as a pre-K instructor and earned roughly $50,000 a year. Palmer's son Amir Joshua worked in "student support" and earned $72,000 in one year.

And his related nonprofit Palmer Foundation earned $180,000 for "curriculum development" supplied to the Palmer schools.

Daira Hinson, the Palmer school's director of administration, invoked the Fifth Amendment 22 times in hearings last month regarding how the charter school's budget was overseen.

Hinson's son Trent also worked for the school and earned just over $48,800 and $58,000 in two consecutive years, according to Form 990 filings, which are public.

When faced with stories like this, our Legislature should be skeptical of charter school supporter's claims of greater parent input and school accountability. Just take a look at the swarms of blue-badged charter school lobbyists who have clogged the halls and wined and dined lawmaker at every opportunity. Does anyone really believe that these guys are here because they care about the future of Alabama students?

Follow the money, because that's why they're here.

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SB-45 - Charter School Double Talk From The GOP

by: countrycat

Sun Mar 15, 2015 at 16:14:19 PM CDT

The Alabama House could vote on SB-45, the charter school bill, as early as next week. While proponents are justifying the move as step forward in the name of "choice" and "competition." As indicted Speaker Mike Hubbard puts it, poor schools should "go out of business." It's surprising that a party whose rank and file is so anti-evolution in biological terms should be so gung ho for "survival of the fittest" in education policy.

Alabama charter schools 

From education expert and commentator Larry Lee:

Some of us can recall when Art Linkletter did a segment on his radio show called “Kids Say the Darndest Things.”  He would ask questions of children and in their wonderful innocence they would give answers that often made us laugh.

I read or hear comments from politicians that deserve to also be called “the darndest things.”  But there is no innocence involved.  Instead, my usual reaction is, “Do they really believe what they are saying?”

Recently Speaker of the House, Mike Hubbard, spoke to a Republican group in Huntsville.  Among his comments was, "In the real world, if you're doing a poor job of servicing your clients, you go out of business," Hubbard said. "Well, public schools never go out of business no matter how bad they are. So we're providing competition for those schools."

In the political world that was a great sound bite, which is why it was reported by al.com.  But it would have been better had it been true.

  • Number one: if a classroom full of 8-year olds isn’t the real world, what is?  The Speaker needs to spend some time in schools before he dismisses the work they do so flippantly.  
  • Number two: Schools “go out of business” all the time.  Records from the state department of education show that 125 schools have been closed since January 2010.  Five of the “failing” schools as designated by the Alabama Accountability Act a year ago are no longer around.  

As to the value of competition in improving schools, listen to Margaret Raymond, Director of the Stanford Center for Research on Education Outcomes, one of the nation’s foremost education policy and research groups, as she recently discussed an extensive report about charter schools in Ohio.

“One of the big insights for me because I actually am a kind of pro-market kind of girl (is that) the marketplace doesn’t seem to work in a choice environment for education. I’ve studied competitive markets for much of my career.  Education is the only industry/sector where the market mechanism just doesn’t work.  It’s not helpful to expect parents to be the agents of quality assurance.”

Other researchers have come to the same conclusion.

“School choice and competition simply have not helped, neither in the United States nor in countries like Chile that have wholeheartedly embraced them.  Rather than offering all students better opportunities, vouchers and charter schools have used tax dollars to help some students while leaving many others even more segregated and disadvantaged,” says David Berliner in his best-seller, 50 Myths and Lies that Threaten America’s Public Schools.

Not only do research and facts not back the Speaker’s statement, neither does logic.  By his logic we would close the fire station in the neighborhood that has the most fires.

This is not the approach we take to economic development.  Would we ever go to a struggling business in a community and tell them we’re recruiting one of their competitors to move to town?

Hardly, but we would probably contact one of the 10 small business development centers in the state to see what help they could provide the struggling company.  Or we might enlist the help of one of the 14 units of the Alabama Technology Network.

Contrast the Speaker’s comment about schools to this one from the same speech:

"When you have a good corporate citizen already providing jobs, we need to be able to help," Hubbard said. "Not to give a hand out, but to reward them and make the path clear for them to make new jobs."

He is exactly right.

So why not also help struggling schools and struggling communities?

According to the Alabama Accountability Act we have struggling schools in places like Louisville, Clayton, Union Springs, Abbeville, Lafayette, Eutaw, Greensboro, Fort Deposit, Notasulga, Marion, Reform and York.  So we should pull the rug out from under them?  To take away perhaps the most important thing they have, the one thing that rallies small communities together?

Real world?  These places are just as real as any others in Alabama.  Where real mamas and daddies long for success for their real children.  Where real people drive to real jobs and go to real churches on Sunday.

Why do we even think about turning our back on them?

Larry Lee led the study, "Lessons Learned from Rural Schools," and is a long-time advocate for public education and frequently writes about education issues.  larrylee33@knology.net


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Charter Schools Are A Band-Aid, Not Real Education Reform

by: countrycat

Sun Mar 08, 2015 at 08:06:03 AM CDT

alabama charter schoolsLet’s say that Santa brought you a new chainsaw and in your haste to put it to work you gashed your leg severely.  With blood gushing everywhere, do you holler for someone to bring you some band-aids?

It’s doubtful.  And more likely that after you scream for help, you immediately start trying to get some kind of tourniquet on the leg to stop the blood flow.

Too bad we don’t do the same thing when tackling education issues in Alabama.  Instead of doing the meaningful work of trying to understand why schools are most likely to fall short of expectations and addressing such systemic issues, we look for band- aids like vouchers and charter schools and then brag about our “education reform” measures.

We don’t acknowledge that more than 90 percent of all the students in our so-called “failing” schools are on free-reduced lunches; we keep quiet about the fact that we have more than three times as many high poverty schools as those considered low poverty and we ignore research showing that children in such situations enter school far behind their counterparts living in leafy suburbs.

Instead we pass legislation like the Alabama Accountability Act and then brag that educators were excluded from developing it.  We have rallies at the State Capitol, bus in hundreds of school kids for a backdrop and listen to folks from Washington tell us how to fix our schools.  We have press conferences to announce an “Alabama First” agenda that promises to bring back the electric chair, bring in charter schools and stop gay marriages in the next legislative session.

Interestingly, as we get ready for the next press conference we fail to talk about a lot of things that the public doesn’t generally know.

Such as:

  • That there are first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth graders in Alabama who have never seen a new library book because the education trust fund has not funded libraries since 2009.

  • That the Accountability Act has now removed $50 million from the education trust fund to pay for perhaps a few hundred scholarships so that kids from failing schools can attend a private school.  In other words, we have taken resources away from all the 733,000 students in public schools to benefit little more than a handful.

  • That study after study shows vouchers have a poor track record.  Programs in Milwaukee, Cleveland and New Orleans have shown very mixed results; certainly nothing to justify the amount of money Alabama is devoting to them.

  • That while it is called the Alabama Accountability Act; there is little transparent about this bill.  While school systems with failing schools like Barbour, Bullock, Chambers, Lowndes, Marengo and Sumter are not aware of any students utilizing an AAA scholarship; a scholarship granting organization says they have awarded more than 100 scholarships in these counties.

  • That while the public was told the AAA was meant to help students attending failing schools, we now know that a great number of scholarships have gone to students already attending private schools or attending non-failing schools.

  • That the proposed legislation to allow charter schools in Alabama will set up a new nine-member state bureaucracy that will be able to overrule local school boards and will take more money away from classrooms for “administrative” expenses.

  • That nearly half of all charter schools in the U.S. are operated by private education management organizations (EMOs) which means key decisions are made at corporate headquarters, often out-of-state.

  • That there have been more than 80 independent studies about student achievement in charters schools and, at best, they have shown little benefit for charter students. The most highly-regarded is from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University that pointed out, “less than one hundredth of one percent of the variation in test performance is explainable by charter school enrollment.”
But hey, why do something with long term benefits when it’s so easy to kick the can down the road? Besides, I made money last year on my Johnson & Johnson stock, the people who make Band-Aids.  And looks like Alabama will be using some more of them.

Larry Lee led the study, Lessons Learned from Rural Schools, and is a long-time advocate for public education and frequently writes about education issues.  larrylee33@knology.net
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Week One Of The Alabama Legislature: The Charter School Public Hearing Con

by: countrycat

Fri Mar 06, 2015 at 09:48:54 AM CST

With a Democratic majority, the Alabama Senate was the place where good bills went to die. With a Republican Super-majority, the Alabama Senate is the place where bad bills pass at roughly the same speed as an ice cube melts on the Sun.

This is no accident: the faster the bill gets through committee & hits the floor, the smaller the chance that anyone - not constituents, the media, or legislators - will actually read it. Here's how it's working this year.

Republican plan for public education 

Last week, just days before the session was to open, fewer than 50 bills had been pre-filed, but by Wednesday night, 273 bills were in the system.  This morning, there are 362 bills. You can see the current bills here.  Alison (the legislative database that was only marginally usable before the "upgrade") is still buggy.  If the link won't work, go to the Alabama Legislature's home page & navigate from there.

In just 3 legislative days (and that includes the always-chaotic opening day on March 3), 39 bills have passed out of committee.  Only a fraction had actual committee hearings called, and that was because alert legislative watchdogs got the request for a public hearing to the clerk before the committee chair could put the bill on the agenda and ram it through committee.

But many people hoping to testify at the few hearings that were held left disappointed. The Senate is following its rules, but barely, and using every tool possible to limit public input to the super-majority's "legislative priorities."

For instance, let's consider Wednesday's public hearing for SB-45 - Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh's charter school bill:

  • The hearing was scheduled to last just 3 hours, even though the crowd was so large that the hearing had to be moved to a larger room in the Statehouse (called "the Star Wars Room," seriously). Even so, the overflow crowd had to be seated in the Senate chamber, with audio from the hearing piped in. 
  • Why the short hearing and the short notice? It was, after all, just the second day of the session and this bill will cause upheaval in Alabama's public school system - the biggest change since school desegregation (and we know how long we took to comply with that!).  Yet, at the beginning of the hearing, the committee chair announced that speakers would be limited because they were "short on time."
  • The bill was read during the hearing because Marsh had already changed the text! That further limited the "short time" available to public comment. Yet we didn't get to hear from the bill's sponsor about the changes.  Instead, a lobbyist from  the Alabama Coalition for Public Charter Schools read the substitute bill and attempted to explain the changes, admitting that she had just seen them and didn't really have good answers.

    Yet her group still spoke in favor of it.  That removed all doubt that the fix is in on this bill. 

  • After that, there was just an hour available for public comment.  One Democratic senator asked that the discussion be tabled until next week so the committee could study the changes and get more information.  Marsh shut that down when he bragged that he had  "enough votes to get it out of committee" so further study didn't matter.

  • And then they voted to move the bill to the floor. This was out of character. In the past, the committee vote takes place a week after the public hearing so that the committee has time to reflect on the comments and study the bills.  You know, do their jobs.

And yet, through all this, the only media reports on the hearing were the usual dueling quotes: "he said this for the bill and he said this against the bill."  There's no discussion of the implications of allowing the "non-profit" charter school boards to hire a for profit "educational services company" to actually run the school or allowing charters to hire untrained teachers or any other thing that you'd anticipate might cause problems.

No doubt that's on purpose, because intense focus on charter school operations in other states would probably shine a spotlight on indicted Speaker Mike Hubbard's cushy contract with Edgenuity, a company that would be a qualified "education service provider" company if SB-45 passes.

According to the filing, "Hubbard solicited and received $7,500 per month from Edgenuity, lobbyist Ferrell Patrick's principal, under circumstances that indicate that the money was provided for reasons related to Hubbard's service as a public official."

Looks like Edgenuity is about to get their money's worth, unlike the poor schmuck who paid Hubbard $10k/month to help increase sales in his plastic cup company - "even though Hubbard admitted he knew nothing about cups."

You don't even have to be opposed to all charter schools to be opposed to how this bill is playing out in the Legislature.  A huge change in the state's system of public education and funding is sliding through the Legislature like butter off a hot roll. And the people pushing it the hardest are the ones who stand to profit the most. 

  • Politicians get hefty contributions and consulting contracts.
  • Lobbyists profit when they act a matchmakers in this sweet little dance called "conflict of interest."
  • Contributors shelter income by donating to the "non-profit" charter schools. 
  • Charter school service providers who have, in other states, padded their profits and personnel salaries with public money.

Who doesn't profit?  Taxpayers and Alabama's school children.  But who cares about those pesky kids anyway... they can't vote & certainly can't write big contribution checks.


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SB-45 Alabama Senate Committee Set To Fast Track Charter School Bill

by: countrycat

Sat Feb 28, 2015 at 15:47:49 PM CST

Here is where Alabama voters need to stand up & say "Hell No" to legislative tricks.  If Alabama is going to experiment with charter schools, the bill - SB-45 - pre-filed by Senate leader Del Marsh needs to be carefully written, debated, and the public needs plenty of input.

Alabama Charter Schools 

Oh, and it would help if the legislators actually read the bill before voting.  We learned from the Alabama Accountability Act what a train wreck you get when legislators get steamrolled by a bill that nobody has read & that has numerous problems that require additional "tweaks" and explanations.

The establishment of charter schools in the state is an issue that needs careful study, debate, and input from every stakeholder. Other states have tripped merrily down the charter school path and got caught in a morass of corruption, and buddy contracting that sucked money out of public education and lined the pockets of private industry.

Does anybody really believe that a bill Mike Hubbard & Del Marsh are trying to slam through the legislature as quickly as possible will be any different?  We live in Alabama, remember, a top state for public corruption, but Michigan is giving us a run for our money:

In one case, the president of a school’s management company and the husband of its top administrator bought a piece of property for $375,000 and less than a week later sold it to the school for $425,000. This appears to have been completely legal. The two men would also go on to collect millions in contracts from the school. This is not an isolated case. See here and here.

Cozy relations have also led to exorbitant compensation, including one case where a school with less than 500 students spent more than a half million dollars on its top school administrator’s severance package.

Think that won't happen in Alabama?  Our state handed out no-bid contracts that paid private companies tens of thousands to build a WordPress site and look up information on Google.  Think what will happen if these guys get their hands on education funding.

Here's the info from a Change.org petition:

Feb 28, 2015 — Our legislative session begins this Tues.,March 3rd. SB45 was pre-filed two days ago. (Feb. 26) Because folks called as soon as the bill was filled we were granted a Public Hearing. It will be at the Statehouse in room 727 at 8:30AM. The GENERAL practice is, if there is a Public Hearing, they DO NOT VOTE on the bill until the following committee meeting (the next week) but they actually plan on voting the very next day, March 5th. They have been known to do this in the past but it is NOT a general rule. They only do it if they want to PUSH the bill through, and they want to push this through before the public can get involved. Our voice MATTERS! Raise it.....write them, tweet them, call them.....tell them to say #NOonALSB45

I ask you to read and sign it. Not because it will make any difference to the Legislature.  Hubbard & company don't give a damn what voters thing.  But because we need to educate the public about what's happening start making some noise.


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Who Really Benefits From The Alabama Accountability Act? Get The Scoop Tuesday 2/24

by: countrycat

Mon Feb 23, 2015 at 15:37:35 PM CST

The Alabama Accountability Act (aka the Great Private School Giveaway) was controversial from the moment the bill dropped with no notice in the Legislature and passed late at night with little or no debate or public input.  And the effect on education in Alabama has been even worse than you think.Alabama Accountability Act

Learn more tomorrow night in Birmingham.  The following is the text of a press release from organizers.

Dr. Craig Pouncey, superintendent of the Jefferson County Schools, and Larry Lee, former Director of the Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries’ Center for Rural Alabama, give the inside scoop on Alabama’s controversial school accountability act Tuesday, February 24th at the Vestavia Library at 6:30 pm.  How many young people actually received scholarships?  Were they in failing schools?  Did they already attend private schools?  Who is the legislation helping??  

Dr. Pouncey, formerly Chief of Staff to Alabama Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice, has handled legislative and financial matters that impact K-12 education statewide and oversaw day to day operations of the state department of education.   From Dr. Bice, Pouncey has a “wealth of institutional knowledge.  He is a champion for the accountability of schools and school systems.”  Dr. Pouncey said:

“These are exciting times as it relates to public education.  The top 10 ‘in demand’ jobs for 2014 did not even exist 10 years ago.  Our task is to prepare many students for jobs that currently don’t even exist.  Never before have school districts been allowed to implement new and innovative strategies toward teaching and learning.  We must embrace new ideas as we move forward for the betterment of the county, region, and state.” 

Dr. Pouncey still considers himself a teacher with his primary goal being to teach people daily about Alabama's school funding system. He believes that "the more people know, the more they understand."

 Larry Lee is a frequent columnist in al.com and Weld among others on education issues and is author of Lessons Learned From Rural Schools, which highlights ten schools in low-income communities that have been successful by creating a positive culture and finding creative ways to work together.  

If you are interested in the education of Alabama’s children, you won’t want to miss this.  Sponsored by Over the Mountain Democrats, whose purpose is to advance, through grassroots efforts, values of fairness, integrity, compassion, and economic opportunity for the benefit of every citizen.

Who: Dr. Craig Pouncey & Larry Lee
What: Speaking on the Alabama Accountability Act
When: 6:30 pm  Tuesday, Feb. 24th, 2015
Where: Vestavia Library 
How: FREE & Open to the Public

For more information contact Linda Verin  adsthatworkreally@gmail.com 



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Alabama Charter School Push Kicks Off With January 28 March

by: countrycat

Wed Jan 21, 2015 at 08:31:07 AM CST

Will 2015 finally be the year that Alabama takes the charter school plunge? Supporters announced a January 28 march on Montgomery in honor of "National School Choice Week."  Billed as a "celebration of educational opportunity,"  the effort's partners include various charter school companies & public charter school astroturf groups. The names of some speak for themselves - KIPP Charter Schools, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, & National Association of Charter School Authorizers.Alabama charter schools

Other "partners" have a distinctly pro-public charter school leadership:

  • Education Reform Now. An advocacy group whose board contains a bevy of hedge fund & investment luminaries, including the "current co-chair of Success Academies network of charter schools." Other directors also have charter school ties.
  • Hispanic CREO. Board member Melissa Myers served as Director of Business Development for a for-profit charter school company & now helps schools "improve education through quality choice."
  • Excellence in Education. Their mission is to equip every student to meet his/her "God-given potential." Main funders include charter school advocates including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, Jeb Bush & Associates, & the Triad Foundation (the non-profit arm of a charter school company).
  • American Federation for Children is led by Betsy Devos (sister of Erik Prince of Blackwater fame), the founder of a number of school voucher advocacy groups. 
  • Black Alliance for Educational Options receives substantial donations from the Alliance for School Choice, another Devos-funded group. Four of the seven members of the board of directors have charter school ties, including the CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund.
  • Choice Media, an educational news network was founded by Bob Bowden, a "champion of school choice, charter schools, & vouchers."

Still think this isn't all about charter schools?  Now that we know who the big players in this effort are, let's look at some of the statements from their press release:

  • It’s time to celebrate something that has never before been available in the state of Alabama, choice in education."
  • “We’re proud to be a part of National School Choice Week and we’re looking forward to continuing the push for choice in the New Year.” 

Alabama-based groups sponsoring the rally:

The Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund, StudentsFirst Alabama, the American Federation for Children, the Alabama Business Education Alliance, the Black Alliance for Educational Options, the Alabama Public Charter School Alliance, and the Business Council of Alabama are working together to plan the event.

The event begins at 9am at the Doubletree Hotel.  The rally will be on the south lawn of the Alabama Capitol. Looks for lots of legislators to attend.  After all, these sponsoring groups have deep pockets: the Devos family alone has been willing to give millions to groups - and candidates - who support their agenda.  One thing the Alabama Legislature never, ever does is leave campaign donation cash on the table.

But ask yourself... if we allowed public schools more freedom & autonomy (ie... operate like charters), wouldn't that be a better option than letting private charter school companies siphon off public money? There's also the question of whether charters actually achieve greater outcomes overall. The KIPP program, in particular, seems hard to replicate long term because of its reliance on inexperienced teachers & issues with educator burnout and turnover.

In February, Left in Alabama will kick off a multi-part series on charter schools.  Have you worked in one, had a child in one, or lived in a state that has experience with charters? I'd love to have your perspective to include in the series.


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New School Safety Strategy: Praise The Lord & Pass The Peas?

by: countrycat

Thu Jan 15, 2015 at 09:45:21 AM CST

If a maniac with a gun enters a classroom full of children, we could make a list of things we'd like them to have handy: panic buttons, bullet proof vests, a SWAT Team next door, a giant claw that would swoop down and grab the shooter.... get as imaginative as you possible can with this. But chances are, you'd never put "a supply of canned vegetables" on the list.

School Safety Tips 

And yet, that's one strategy suggested by the staff of W. H. Burns Middle School in Valley, AL (in Chambers County).  In a letter addressed to parents, the school asked for donations of canned goods - for protection.

This story is so bizarre, that I thought it had to be a joke.  But no.  From the letter:

We are asking each student to bring an 8 oz. canned food item (corn, beans, peas, etc.) to use in case an intruder enters their classroom. We hope the canned food items will never be used or needed, but it is best to be prepared. At the end of the school year, the cans will be donated to the food closet.

Thank you for your support in helping us keep our children safe at school.

This isn't just in Alabama, though of course, the Alabama angle was irresistible to the national media.

Other school systems across the country are also collecting cans as part of an overall safety strategy. School officials admit that it would be part of a "last ditch" effort to create enough of a distraction to allow students to escape and throw off the shooter's aim. Students in other schools have safety drills where they're encouraged to use creative methods to stop an intruder: slamming textbooks on his/her head or using chairs or desks as weapons.

It's really sad that schools have to spend time doing this. In the old days, the most we ever had were fire drills - and everyone looked forward to those breaks from classroom routine. We would have not been nearly as sanguine about safety drills where we were asked to game out how to avoid gunfire in the hallways.

The canned goods strategy sounds pretty silly, but if this sort of planning can help students and school staff stay calm during a crisis, it's probably worth the effort. At the very least, it will help increase donations to local food banks at the end of the school year.


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State Education Dept. Asks For Public Comment On 2014 Science Curriculum Standards

by: countrycat

Wed Jan 07, 2015 at 09:02:30 AM CST

Alabama State Department of Education wants your input on the draft 2014 Alabama Science Course of Study. This draft includes Alabama's College & Career Ready Standards for Science and encompasses the state's entire K-12 science curriculum.Alabama Science Standards

Beginning January 5 through January 30, 2015, the public can view and provide feedback on the draft of the 2014 Alabama Course of Study: Science.  The public review of the 2014 Alabama Course of Study: Science has two goals:

  1. Engage the general public, parents, educators, business and industry, and civic leaders in a general review of the science course of study.
  2. Increase awareness and understanding of the revised science standards.
At the conclusion of the public review, the feedback generated will be reviewed by the State Science Course of Study Committee.  The Science Course of Study committee will then recommend the revised science course of study to Dr. Bice, the state superintendent, who will then make a recommendation to the Alabama State Board of Education in the spring of 2015.

This 2013 article is a helpful guide to "who decides what gets taught in our classrooms." It describes how standards are adopted at the state level, how textbooks are selected at conform to those standards, and how these statewide decisions get implemented at the local school board level.

These standards are important: please take some time to review them & provide input because you can be sure that the climate change deniers, evolution foes, and their friends will be all over this.  It's already happened in other states:

The Next Generation Science Standards have caused controversy in some states because they include human-induced climate change and evolution.

However, Alabama's current standards already require students to learn about "natural selection" and "survival of the fittest" as well as the "impact of society on human health and environmental conditions."

Science has long been a controversial topic in Alabama schools.  Remember the headlines when the state placed "evolution disclaimer" stickers in biology textbooks in 1996.  They were still there in 2005:

Alabama: Biology textbooks in Alabama have included a disclaimer describing evolution as a "controversial theory" since 1996. The Board of Education adopted a softer disclaimer when they revised science guidelines in 2004, describing evolution as one of several scientific theories. But on Nov.10, 2005, the board voted to continue requiring the original disclaimer language.

This is the kind of issue that's pretty much off the radar of most people because they're more engaged with their local school systems & school boards. What happens at the state level generally gets little attention. That low profile allows those who want their religious beliefs taught as "science" to exert a lot of influence because they show up and speak out.

This issue is important to everyone in the state, not just the parents of public school students. The state got huge amounts of negative publicity in 1996 when we added those stupid stickers. That was done by Democrats who controlled the legislature at the time, but our GOP supermajority hasn't done anything to improve the state's image.  From immigrants to ultrasounds to state officials violating the ethics laws they wrote & passed themselves, it's been one embarrassing news story after another.

Get involved!  Review the Science Course of Study and offer your comments here.


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Because Ebola, a Scary Story for October

by: JenniferMarsdenMD

Tue Oct 07, 2014 at 07:58:46 AM CDT

( - promoted by countrycat)

by Jennifer Marsden, MD, Candidate for State House, Alabama District 93 

Part of the Progressive/Democrat problem is we just don't have a persuasive enough message machine. No Fox News and its associated connections getting every talking head in our party saying the same phrase in lock step and every watcher of the favored channel believing as gospel the same thing no matter how many Congressional investigations (in comedy central parody of Fox News "Benghazi! Bengazhi Bengazhi BENGHAZI!!!"). MSNBC just doesn't consistently make our blood boil or get us all marching in unison. I flatter myself this is because Progressives are too intelligent to be taken in by false logic or out and out lies spoken often enough and loudly enough; and of course you have heard of 'herding cats' to describe trying to get Democrats all headed in the same direction. 

This week my 14 year old daughter and assistant speech writer suggested I tell voters "Vote for my opponent and you will get Ebola!" I laughed and reminded her about libel and slander and how sensationalism is a bad right wing trait, but then my campaign manager and husband convinced me to take the idea seriously. So, in high school English essay format, why you must vote for me, or else Ebola! Ebola Ebola Ebola!!!

Here in Alabama the Republican supermajority is doing its best to end public education as we know it and create an education industrial complex. Former Governor Bob Riley runs a company which gets 5% of funds taken from public education for school vouchers. They cut public education funding $1200 per student in the past 8 years. Our teachers get $20 more for a classroom supplies allowance than they did 20 years ago. Our schools send out school supply lists including Chlorox® wipes, hand sanitizer, and Kleenex®. Do some schools request parents send in toilet paper? Clearly, where parents do not adequately stock the schools with cleaning supplies our school students (and families) are at increased risk of spreading germs. Ebola!

Likewise Alabama is a 'right to work' state- ie a right to be fired without cause and NO right to form a union state. I beg the local Union members (we have a few) to ignore what they see on TV (Fox News is endemic) and vote Democrat, reminding them how Unions and the Democratic Party brought us all child labor laws, overtime, and sick leave, did I say sick leave? Of course here in Alabama non union members rarely have sick leave, and wages are so low for many they work two or three jobs. When workers are paid so little missing a day's work is unaffordable and may even cost them their job. A doctor's note does not protect them from lost wages or being fired if they have gotten sick already this year- the boss prefers his never absent employees. These low wage workers will not self quarantine for several days when they might be contagious, even/especially when they work in food service with the lowest pay, let alone stay home to recover or when barely fit to show up at work. Sick people in our restaurants and at our workplace! Ebola Ebola Ebola! I know from my clinical practice as a family doctor this is true even when workers are advised to stay home by medical staff.

If they can access medical advice! Sadly Alabama's governor (a doctor himself) has so far refused Medicaid Expansion leaving about 300,000 Alabamians- most with jobs- in the Medicaid Gap. Even if they feel driven to seek a doctor by some horrible symptoms they may wait until an emergency room visit is needed (where inability to pay does not matter); if there is still a hospital near by. (Six hospitals have closed in the past 18 months and 22 more are at risk, which Medicaid expansion would help alleviate.) Hospitals and medical clinics need to get paid, and minimum wage workers without health insurance aren't the best customers for good wages for the medical staff. The lack of affordable medical care increases our risk of contagious diseases not being properly diagnosed or managed. Ebola! Spreading wildly!

In summary, a vote for an Alabama Republican is a vote to turn us into a third world country with third world schools, third world wages, third world medicine, and third world diseases. Low wage conservatism and the pervasive plantation mentality espoused by our GOP supermajority and governor continue to prey on the most vulnerable in our state - hard working Alabama families, their children and the medically needy. Those are exactly the same populations that we see most affected by Ebola overseas: it takes advantage of underpaid workers, the young, and the weak. Unlike much of the talking points on Fox News, this is at least logical.

Ebola! Ebola Ebola EBOLA!


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Rep. Chris England Offers Warning About Alabama Accountability Act

by: countrycat

Fri May 30, 2014 at 07:45:06 AM CDT

Even if you agree with the Alabama Accountability Act, you should be very concerned about how the bill was passed - and how the state courts will handle the pending lawsuit. Rep. Christopher England (HD-70) offered this warning on his Facebook page, and it was too good not to share with a wider audience.

The Tuscaloosa legislator offered this perspective:

"Liberal Judge strikes down Alabama's school choice law."

I have heard that a thousand times since yesterday. No discussion of the merits of the decision. Still no discussion about the despicable way the bill was passed. Sill no discussion about how members of the Legislature lied to their colleagues and also to their constituents to hide their true intentions. Still no discussion about how the Legislative process, designed specifically to prohibit and prevent the actions taken to pass the "Accountability Act", was intentionally ignored. Nope, there will be none of that. The only reason that the Judge declared the law unconstitutional is because he is a Democrat. Not because what they did was wrong, which it was, and that there is a good chance it actually broke the law.

What is amazing is that the same people who are telling you that the only reason Judge Reese declared the law unconstitutional was because he is a Democrat have absolutely no problem telling you that his decision will be overturned because the appellate courts are full of Republicans.

Set aside whether or not you support school choice and your party affiliation. Do you really want your Legislature passing laws in that way? Do you really want your elected officials to have the power to sacrifice the process whenever they decide that it has become inconvenient to them? Shouldn't the actions taken to pass that law be illegal to make sure that no one, Democrat or Republican, can ever do it again? Members of the Legislature openly bragged that they passed the Accountability Act in that manner because if others actually had a chance to read it then it wouldn't have passed. Do you really want your elected officials to have that sort of unbridled power?

Some may accept the way that this bill was passed because they agree with allowing school choice and giving tax credits to help that happen. However, what are you going to do when the law and the process are manipulated and essentially ignored when you or your interests are in the crosshairs? Once you honestly answer that question, then you will understand why this decision needs to be upheld and this Pandora's box permanently closed. Trust me on this one, if they get away with it once, they will do it again. The next time, however, you may not like the outcome.

I have tremendous respect for Rep. England: his statements are well-reasoned and thoughtful.  Even when I don't agree completely, it's obvious that he's interested in a dialogue, not a shouting match.  I hope he runs for higher office someday.

Oh, and he's exactly right, IMO, about the Accountability Act - aka the "Great Private School Giveaway."


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Governor Bentley Doubles Down On Corporate Welfare Payments

by: countrycat

Fri May 23, 2014 at 16:00:00 PM CDT

According to our Doctor Governor, the Education budget benefits when the state hands over hundreds of millions in corporate welfare payments, so why shouldn't schools pay for it?  No joke, campers.

It's not enough that Alabama spends millions in "no strings attached" corporate "incentives." that nobody ever investigates later to see if they were good deals for the state.  Now, the Governor thinks that the Education budget should fund it.

 "We have to look at who actually pays for it and who actually benefits," Bentley said last week. "If you look right now, the general fund pays for incentives, but the education budget is the one that gets the benefit."

Alabama is one of a few states with two budgets funded by separate revenue streams. Though incentives are largely paid for with money from or diverted from the general fund budget, many of the benefits of new job creation — including income and sales taxes — flow into the education budget.

"That's something we're going to look at," Bentley said. "If education is benefiting from it, we need to look and see if some of the incentive money should come from that way. ... Whoever benefits ought to pay."

Ummmm..... isn't it the corporations who beneft the most?  Let's look at a corporate welfare deal from a few years ago:

The state has agreed to provide more than $6 million in incentives for Toyota's V6 engine expansion, including $1 million for capital costs incurred by the company in developing, constructing and equipping the facility, $400,000 for industrial access roads and $4.8 million for job training.

"Job training."  Ok... so I'm more than a couple of decades old, but I remember - in the "good old days" - that my employers trained me, not the State of Alabama.

Not that asking schools to pay is a new idea: remember the Limestone County Schools getting squeezed to cough up cash for a retail development in Morgan County - because the $40 million already offered to the developer just wasn't enough.

"According to the developer, it's still a little bit short. That's where Limestone County is going to have to come in. (Decatur) can't do anything else."
Limestone County Commissioner Gary Daly said the school system is likely to see an additional $1 million per year from the development and should "ante up."

But is it a good idea?  I say no.


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Alabama Teachers Need Our Support

by: countrycat

Fri Mar 21, 2014 at 09:43:58 AM CDT

(This op/ed piece was submitted via our Left In Alabama facebook page. - promoted by countrycat)

Too many people accuse public school teachers of having it "easy."  You know the drill: they only work 9 months a year, only work 6 hours a day, etc. etc.  But anyone who is a teacher or knows one will tell you (probably quite heatedly) that the reality is far different.  Teachers aren't in hammocks: they're on treadmills that go faster and faster. 

For instance, take the average salary of a first year teacher in the state of Alabama and start subtracting:

  • Education association fees
  • Retirement
  • Taxes
  • Health insurance
  • Average rent/mortgage in Alabama
  • Average car insurance premium,
  • Fuel for just the average commute to work
  • Average student loan payment
  • Average power bill
  • Average water bill
  • Cheapest Walmart prepaid wireless phone plan
  • Cheapest DSL and television package offered
  • Average additional health, dental, and vision costs that arose throughout the year
  • Federal minimum estimate for groceries for an individual to still be considered as having a healthy diet.

My math may be bad, but not likely since Gail Carpenter ignored the embarrassing low salary to improve those skills in students like me - we didn't deserve her dedication!

Anyway, I keep coming up with a figure that is shocking to me. A teacher starting out in Alabama has an average disposable income of around $75 a week.

To put that in perspective, let's pretend that a teacher's day is 8 hours - if you know an educator you know that is not the case. That means for each hour they work, a teacher, early in their career, gets $1.75 per hour that is not already accounted for. What does that pay for? A Netflix subscription and a few bottles of wine a month to try to forget that people of this state continue to elect individuals who don't respect the teaching profession or public education.  Legislators make their lives even harder while they do their best to inspire your children to achieve more than the previous generations of Alabamians achieved. 

Finally, I arrive to my point. There are five things Alabama will always have no matter what majority party is sent to Montgomery.

  1. We will always have God.
  2. We will always have guns.
  3. We will always have a staunch belief that the rights' of the state of Alabama are more important than the rights of the federal government.
  4. We will always have low state taxes.
  5. We will always have good football either on a plain or on a capstone.

These are not variables. These are constants. If anyone infringes upon one of these constants, oust their ass out of office in the next election.

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"Have You No Sense of Decency?" Why Alabama Republicans Need A History Lesson

by: countrycat

Tue Mar 18, 2014 at 09:12:59 AM CDT

It takes a special kind of doofus to defend the late, red-baiting, list-waving Senator Joseph McCarthy - & Alabama has at least two of them working on our state's education policy. State Senator (and US House Candidate) Scott Beason & Talladega County Republican Party Chairman Danny Hubbard are either deliberately whitewashing history, totally clueless - or both.Scott Beason

Speaking to the Anniston Star recently, they had this to say:

McCarthy was right about most of the people he accused, Beason claims.

"So we're comparing the McCarthy investigations of the 1950s, in which he turned out to be right, with the Salem witch hunts," Beason said.
Hubbard put some of the flags in Beason's textbook. He said he didn't flag "The Crucible," but he thinks Beason was right to do so. Joe McCarthy, he said, was right.

"Now that all the records are out, it's clear that McCarthy didn't go far enough," he said.

Let's keep in mind how & why Senator McCarthy's name itself became a word in the dictionary:
1. the practice of making accusations of disloyalty, especially of pro-Communist activity, in many instances unsupported by proof or based on slight, doubtful, or irrelevant evidence.

2. the practice of making unfair allegations or using unfair investigative techniques, especially in order to restrict dissent or political criticism.

And let's compare that to some recent antics in the Alabama Republican Party:

  • Accusations of disloyalty - Prominent birther, State Republican Committee member, and former Congressional candidate Hugh McInnish has been beating this drum for years:  "In my white paper I will present what I believe is conclusive evidence that the Obama birth certificate is a forgery and Obama himself a forgerer. Do you realize what that would mean? Just think of it! It would mean that the most powerful nation in the world is under the direction of a felon. It might mean, as some legal expert contend, that all of his executive actions are null and void."
  • Accusations of pro-Communist activity:  In September 2012 AL State GOP Chair Bill Armistead urged everyone to see a birther movie  which, "according to its director Joel Gilbert, “presents the case that Frank Marshall Davis, a Communist Party USA organizer and propagandist, was Obama's real father, both biological and ideological, and indoctrinated Obama with a political foundation in Marxism and an anti-White world view.”
Well, those first two certainly fit the rest of the definition:  "unsupported by proof or based on slight, doubtful, or irrelevant evidence."
It's no surprise that this McCarthy rehab effort is part of the right wing's fight against Common Core standards.  The wing nuts are the worst enemy of standards opponents - many of whom have quite valid concerns about the high-stakes testing and corporate involvement in education.
And it's no surprise that the TEA Party conspiracists & birthers (aka.. the GOP base) look with longing to those thrilling days of yesteryear when a politician only had to wave a sheet of paper containing a mythical "list of Communists," and a fearful populace would fall into line - at least temporarily.
But those days are gone.  Chain email crap like this won't bring them back.  Please children, go back to squabbling amongst yourselves about whether President Obama had a Marxist Kenyan or American Communist father or whether the black helicopters are taking you to a FEMA camp or a secret Marxist prison and stop trying to impose your anti-intellectual, revisionist fantasies and paranoia on our state's public students.
Note: thanks to Special Counsel for the Army Joseph N. Welch, for inspiring this title.
Discuss :: (4 Comments)

Here's The Problem With The Anti-Common Core Movement: Right Wing Nutcases

by: countrycat

Wed Mar 12, 2014 at 08:54:46 AM CDT

"Social justice is contrary to traditional American notions of justice and the United States Constitution and based on individual rights.  Social justice teaches children that America is an oppressive and unjust society that should be changed!"  So says Dr. Terry Batton a preacher & leader of the Barbour County TEA Party as he ranted against SB443 in committee yesterday in Montgomery. Terry Batton Barbour County Tea Party

If Jesus were still in His tomb, he'd be rolling so fast that it would surely measure on the Richter Scale.

Opposition to Common Core spans the political spectrum, and I have left-leaning friends who oppose the standards, warning that they rely too much on high-stakes testing and will increase the corporatization of American education.  They're frustrated that people don't take them seriously - and it's people like Batton who have poisoned the well for the opposition.

Mention anti-Common Core & someone like Dr. Batton is the stock image that pops up: a minister who rails equally against "homosexuality" and "redistribution of wealth," considering them both "anti-Christian and anti-Catholic."  I'm wondering about the difference between "Christians" and "Catholics," but he didn't provide specifics.

Well, he gets one thing right:

"Look at our government today.  Do you really trust this Congress with the future of your children?"

Heck no. I wouldn't trust Eric Cantor or John Boehner to select the brand of toilet paper for the Congressional bathrooms.

But I also don't trust people like this to get anywhere near our state's educational system or standards.


Discuss :: (1 Comments)
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