One of my favorite characters ever was Rufus Coody, who farmed in Dooly County, GA.  I met him when I was a young associate editor at Progressive Farmer. A very colorful fellow, one of his favorite sayings when he felt something was basically worthless was, “like a billy goat needs a song book.”  

And this was exactly what came to mind as I read this story about Senator Del Marsh calling for a comprehensive plan for public education in Alabama.  Marsh also said that “development of a cohesive school strategy should start with educators, not lawmakers.”

I totally agree with the latter statement as this is something many of us have been saying for years.

Before he gets too far down the path of creating a statewide plan, Senator Marsh would be wise to ask some educators what we already have in place.  For one thing he would quickly learn that we instituted such a plan less than five years ago with Plan 2020.  You can see all 398 pages of an exhaustive report about Plan 2020 right here.

Countless hours of research and homework and meetings went into the plan which is built on four pillars involving students, school support systems, professional development for educators and funding.  The state school board requested a waiver from No Child Left Behind from the Federal government on Aug. 30, 2012 and received it in June 2013.  Then state superintendent Tommy Bice held 12 town hall meetings across Alabama and made 32 presentations to chambers, civic clubs, education groups, etc.

So the existence of Plan 2020 is hardly a secret.

In addition, the U. S. Congress has replaced No Child Left Behind with the Every Students Succeeds Act.  Dozens of people have been working on putting together Alabama’s ESSA accountability plan for nearly a year.  Governor Bently kicked this off by creating a statewide committee to work on it.  The intent of this legislation is to allow states more leeway in putting together education plans.

Senator Marsh would also be well-served to ask his staff to review all 67 chapters of Alabama Code section 16 that deals exclusively with education matters.

They would find that having grand ideas about comprehensive plans for education has been tried several times.  Go back to the Education Study Commission created by Governor Albert Brewer.  This was chaired by Auburn University President Harry Philpott and spent a lot of money on consultants.  Governor Brewer called a special session in the Spring of 1969 to put ideas from this commission into law.  (This was when we got legislation that changed Alabama from an appointed to an elected state school board.)

You will also find something called the Alabama Education Authority, the Alabama Education Council. the Alabama Council on Family and Children, the Education Reform Act of 1984, the Community Schools Act of 1990 and the Alabama Compact for Leadership And Citizenship Education.

I am happy Senator Marsh is looking at education, and doubly happy that he has finally realized the education experts in this state work in schools, not the Statehouse.  This is a positive first step.

And if he is really serious about helping our students and teachers, he can work to repeal the infamous Alabama accountability Act that he sponsored in 2013.  The same one that has now diverted $86 million from the Education Trust Fund to give vouchers to less than 4,000 students going to private schools.  And he can also help repeal the A-F school grading bill that has cost us countless hundreds and hundreds of man hours and untold amounts of money to tell us what we already know.  (High poverty schools don’t do well.)

As my late friend Rufus Coody would say, “we need them like a billy goat needs a song book.”