Editor’s note: Genesis tells us the story of Joseph looking for his brothers and being told that they went to Dothan. So, like Joseph, Sunday afternoon Feb. 9 I went to Dothan. But I was looking for a forum conducted by the Southeast Alabama League of Women Voters to discuss Amendment One that will be on the ballot on March 3. I was invited to speak against the amendment, while my friend Senator Greg Albirtton of Atmore was on the other side of the fence.
There was a good and diverse crowd. The LWV ladies are to be commended for hosting this event.
Here are my remarks:
“Amendment One is little more than a sham, built on faulty numbers and making false promises. It is another example of the elites in Montgomery trying to take away our right to vote and seize more and more power.
The proponents of this amendment are talking out of both sides of their mouth as they distort results from a national test not aligned with the standards we use while promising to rid classrooms of other national standards—which this amendment does not do.
Amendment One is not about helping the 715,000 students in our public schools, it is about control. Public education has been under attack since the Republican supermajority took control in 2010 and this is just the latest—and boldest—step in that direction.
The elites love numbers. Which is why you hear them talk about Alabama’s scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests, commonly referred to as NAEP–probably the most misunderstood scores you can find.
Time after time we hear someone shout that our 4th grade math scores are the lowest in the country, so our schools must be terrible. However, they never give any context.
Every two years we randomly select 5,000 4th and 8th graders in Alabama to take NAEP. But standards used for NAEP do not align to Alabama standards so we are testing students on things they have never been taught.
There are 715,000 students in our public schools. 5,000 is six-tenths of one percent of them. There are 15,192 students in Dothan and Houston County. Six tenths of one percent are 91 students.
Does anyone in this room honestly think test scores from just 91 students would give you an accurate assessment of how your schools are doing?
State NAEP scores were first published in 1992. Most of this time Massachusetts has been at the top of NAEP rankings. So, some constantly want to compare us to Massachusetts.
When you do this, you find something quite interesting. Alabama has actually made greater gains in NAEP since 1992 than Massachusetts has.
Does anyone here think Dothan city schools should be compared to those in Mountain Brook? There are 4,320 students in Mountain Brook, only 23 receive free or reduced lunches. By comparison, of the 8,536 students in Dothan city, 5,606 are on free-reduced lunches.
No other single factor influences test scores as much as poverty does.
Comparing Alabama to Massachusetts is comparing Dothan to Mountain Brook. It is nonsense, but we do it all the time.
Of course, we don’t have perfect schools in Alabama. And we never will.
But we have amazing teachers and principals doing amazing things with very limited resources. I see them in schools constantly.
To say they are terrible based on a test given every two years to less than one percent of all students makes no sense.
And if our schools are so bad and our kids so dumb, how in the world have we created 40,000 jobs in the automotive industry in the last 25 years?
In addition to this, the elites believe they can hoodwink the public by making the false claim that Amendment One will eliminate Common Core.
This is untrue. All you have to do is read the legislation.
Here is what it says:
“In addition to any function or duty provided by general law, the commission shall adopt all of the following:
a. Course of study standards that ensure nationwide consistency and the seamless transfer of students from within and outside of the state, in lieu of common come.”
If I have ever heard political double talk, this is it because “standards that ensure nationwide consistency and the seamless transfer of students from within and outside of the state ARE standards like common core.
This is like passing a law that says the University of Alabama must change their football uniforms—but the new ones must be red and white and have a large script A on them.
There is great irony in the fact that this March we will celebrate the march over the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma in 1965 when people risked their lives for the right to vote.
Yet this March we are being asked to vote to give up our right to vote on members of the state school board.
If Amendment One passes, the governor will nominate people to serve on the state school board. But they must all be confirmed by the State Senate which is controlled by 27 white, male Republicans and run with an iron hand by senate majority leader Del Marsh.
This board will then hire a state school superintendent, but again, this must be confirmed by the senate.
The reality is that Amendment One would make Del Marsh the czar of Alabama public education.
That thought scares every educator in the state.
The attack on our public schools It started with a special session in late 2010 when the supermajority stopped educators from serving in the House or Senate. Doctors, lawyers, accountants, insurance folks, business folks, eye doctors and anyone else you can think of who can serve—but not educators.
In 2012 we passed the A-F school report card bill. The next educator I find who says this law has any worthwhile value will be the first one I’ve found.
In 2013 we passed the Alabama Accountability Act that has now diverted $155 million from the Education Trust Fund to give scholarships to private schools. This now amounts to $215 per public school student—or $3.2 million for Houston County and Dothan schools. That’s about $5,000 per classroom.
The most recent numbers show Houston Academy has 15 scholarships and Northside Methodist has 68. None of these students were attending a failing school before getting a scholarship—yet we were told when this law passed that it was all about “helping poor kids stuck in failing schools by their zip code.”
In 2015 we passed the charter school law which has been a disaster with LEAD Academy in Montgomery where I live and in Washington County which is one of Senator Albritton’s counties.
Last Monday the state charter commission came down hard on LEAD Academy and Woodland Prep in Washington County. They told LEAD they lack institutional control and began the process to revoke the application for Woodland Prep.
It should be noted that the charter commission is an appointed board with nominees coming from the governor, lt. governor, speaker of the house and senate majority leader.
If Alabama has had a jewel in its crown, it is the Alabama Reading Initiative that started 20 years ago. There was $64 million in the 2009 education budget for ARI. But by 2018 this was cut to $41 million by the supermajority. A reduction of 35 percent.
Of course, we hear a lot about teacher shortages these days. So, what did we do? Eight years ago, the supermajority cut benefits for new teachers by 20 percent according to the Retirement Systems of Alabama.
And we should now turn over public education to these people? That makes as much sense as Georgia building a monument to General Sherman.
We have now done three surveys on my blog about Amendment One since last summer.
The most recent was in January with more than 500 responses.
79 percent of respondents were either retired educators, teachers or employees of a public school system.
43 percent said they were republicans, while 31 percent were independents and 25 percent were democrats.
65 percent were female, 86 percent were Caucasian.
93 percent said they will vote NO on amendment one.
One thing that jumped out like a sore thumb is that 66 percent of them rated the legislature either a D or an F.
And 86 percent said they have “very little” confidence in Del Marsh doing what is in the best interest of public schools.
I find it very interesting that while 65 percent of respondents were female and 43 percent were Republicans, they are not in agreement with the Republican dominated legislature on this issue.
There are 104 Republicans in the House and Senate. Only 8 of these, all in the House, are female.
When Democrat Andy Beshear narrowly defeated incumbent Republican Matt Bevin for governor of Kentucky last fall, many felt it was because many suburban Republican women did not vote for Bevin.
The results of this survey indicate that this contention has merit.
It is also worth noting that last August the 400-member Alabama Republican Executive Committee voted 2 to 1 to oppose Amendment One.
To me, the most meaningful takeaway from this survey—and all the others we have done–is the huge gap between how those interested in public education see things and how they are viewed by the legislature.
When Del Marsh passed the Alabama Accountability Act, not a soul in education, even the state superintendent at the time Tommy Bice, knew what was going on and Marsh later bragged that he kept educators in the dark because they might have opposed this bill.
So, on March 3rd we will vote on an amendment that has huge implications for education, but was written without input from those most impacted.
Until legislative leadership shows a willingness to seek advice from those they wish to govern, we will continue to squander opportunities for our children.
Amendment One is no more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It should be rejected.”