Right now prominent members of the Republican party in the state legislature are trying to hijack public education by taking control of the state school board. Their very tired mantra is that our schools are not performing as they should.
However, they cast all the blame at the feet of public school teachers and administrators and are too busy pointing fingers to look in the mirror and see who is to blame for what has happened since 2010.
The anti-Obama tsunami swept Alabama in 2010 and Republicans seized complete and total control of the legislative process. There were 18 new Republican house members elected and eight new GOP senators.
Bob Riley was winding up his two terms as governor and grabbed the opportunity to jump on a quirk in our laws to call a special session before his term ran out in January 2011. Unknown to many, while constitutional officers like governor don’t leave office until the January after the November general election, new legislators take office the day after they are elected..
So the special session in December 2010 had scores of new faces who didn’t even know where the bathrooms were, much less what being a legislator was all about. And many of them owed their alligience to Mike Hubbard and Riley for donating large amounts of help and financial support to their campaigns.
Riley publicly declared that the special session was all about “ethics reform.” But in realty, it was about breaking the back of the Alabama Education Association and drastically weakening public education. And they did a damn fine job of doing this. They eliminated the ability of AEA to collect political action committee donations through payroll deductions and forbade educators from holding office in the legislature because they claimed they were “double dipping.”
This combination of a supermajority, a weakened AEA and no educators in the legislature to address education policy issues has brought us to where we are today. A place where educators are scapegoats and meaningful education policy is as rare as snow in Red Level on the Fourth of July.
Then begin with the A-F school report card bill passed in 2012. If this bill serves a useful purpose, I have yet to find a decent educator who knows what it is. It has put emphasis on devoting too much attention to what is being tested, rather than what a child may need to truly be educated..
Then in 2013 we passed the tax break bill dubiously called the Alabama Accountability Act that has now diverted $155 million from the Education Trust Fund to give a few thousand students scholarships to private schools and done precious little to help our most challenged students.
And in 2015 we passed a charter school law that has ignored accountability, winked at provisions of the law itself and created an on-going disaster in Washington County.
And all the while we have demeaned the teaching profession, used every chance we could get to label schools and communities as “failing” and cut benefits for educators. We wring our hands about “teacher shortages” and wonder why enrollment in colleges of education is down.
We rant and rave about NAEP scores, though we are clueless as to what these are and how they are to be interpreted. After all, why bother with the facts when they don’t fit your narrative?
If Alabama education has had a jewel in its crown, it is the Alabama Reading Imitative that started 20 years ago. Its success attracted attention throughout the country. Even Massachusetts, considered by most to be among the very best schools systems in the nation, came to Alabama to check out ARI.
The 2009 Education Trust Fund had $64 million designated for ARI. Then the supermajority swept into office in 2010 and the ARI line item was $41 million in 2018. That’s a cut of 35 percent.
Now these same folks, the ones who have spent the last nine years doing to Alabama education what Sherman did to Georgia, are saying, “Turn the state school board over to us because we have all the answers.”
However, the track record of these self-proclaimed “experts” shows how foolish such a statement is.