Jo Bonner Comes To Montgomery

Governor Kay Ivey has just announced that former Congressman, Jo Bonner, is joining her staff as “senior advisor.”  In my opinion,  this is great news for the people of Alabama.

I have known Jo since 1982.  And if I could sum him up in just one word, it would be GENUINE.  What you see is what you get.  As far as I know, he is the same person he was when I met him 36 years ago.  He has a moral compass that is steadfast and has always seen the light side of life–even when the joke is on him.  Trust me, there are not many in the political world I would say this about.

He was just out of school at the University of Alabama and working on the campaign of my college classmate, Lt. Governor George McMillan, who was running for governor, in 1982.  (And lost in a runoff to George Wallace.)  Jo was working throughout the Wiregrass and was stationed in Dothan.

McMillan was having a rally in Dothan and that’s where Jo and I met.  At some point that evening Jo asked where I was spending the night since I lived in Montgomery.  I told him I had no plans and he graciously suggested that I spend the night with him since he had an available bed.  I did.

Years later when he was elected to Congress from Alabama’s First District, he sent me a note on his stationary and said something to the effect, “I will not forget the night we spent together in Dothan.”

He told me later with a hardy laugh that his secretary questioned what he said in the note and asked him if he was really going to send it.  He told her he was because it was true.  How do you not appreciate that quality in a person?

When we studied 10 rural elementary schools in 2008, I was dumbfounded by the physical condition of Calcedever elementary in the north end of Mobile County.  To call it deplorable was being too kind.

I got Jo to come visit the school and see firsthand.  He did.  And in each room he quickly told the students that he worked in Washington and if they were ever going to be there, he would help arrange a tour for them.  A little blond guy in the first grade paid rapt attention and as soon as Jo said this, he quickly pulled out his pencil and asked, “What is your number?”

I nearly fell in the floor laughing.

Jo worked for Congressman Sonny Callahan of Mobile for 18 years.  And when Sonny retired in 2002, Jo was elected to replace him.  He stepped down in 2013 to take a position at the University of Alabama.

As we say in Red Level, “Kay, you done good.”




Is The Business Council Getting Out Of The Education Picture?

As we reported back in July, longtime head of the Business Council of Alabama, Billy Canary, was ousted from his position after months of high stakes politicking by some of Alabama major companies.

His replacement will be Katie Britt, who is presently chief of staff for Senator Richard Shelby.  As explained in this article by the Alabama Political Reporter, she was selected by the BCA executive committee for the top job in October and all that is left is a vote by the full board of directors.

But here is what really caught my attention in the article:

“It is also believed that the executive committee wants to pull back from some of the group’s programs like Business in Education, an arm of BCA started to compete with the Alabama Education Association.

“BCA has to get back to its core mission,” said a prominent supporter. “BCA needs to concentrate its efforts on promoting business, not frivolous power grabs.”

I’ve made no pretense of my feelings about BCA and some of their education initiatives.  Just check out articles here and here.  And the fact I was willing to say that the emperor had no clothes is what prompted the BCA to come after me hard during my campaign for the Montgomery school board last spring.  Canary gave my primary opponent $250 and Jay Love, who is finance chairman of the Business Education Alliance, chipped in $1,500.

BCA also spent major PAC funds on state school board races in 2014 and 2016.  Like several hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Canary once worked at the White House in the administration of the first President Bush.  And he is a true believer in the education reform efforts promoted by Jeb Bush.  Jeb is president and chairman of the ExcellinEd Foundation that is a major promoter of things like charter schools, vouchers, tax credit scholarships, etc.  The fact that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomburg Philanthropies and the Walton Foundation have given this group more than $1 million each is ample testimony about their agenda.

And under Canary, BCA was all about the same things.  They made a big deal each February of promoting a “school choice” rally in Montgomery and they were an unabashed cheerleader for Bob Riley’s Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund.  I will never forget sitting in a legislative committee meeting when BCA told everyone how wonderful the Alabama Accountability Act is.

While I do hope this BCA agenda bites the dust, I also think they could be a positive force for public education in this state.  Goodness knows we need all the help we can get.

But before they tackle anything they should spend a lot more time talking to honest-to-goodness educators.  You know like those who are principals and teachers and understand our challenges far better that people who work in big offices in tall buildings.

Principals are key to good schools.  But too often we do not give them the professional development they desperately need.  BCA  could make a huge contribution to this state by developing some pilot PD programs for principals.  Or how about using their vast network of business contacts by encouraging their members to get involved in local school systems?  The list could go on and on.

I do not know Katie Britt.  I certainly wish her well and look forward to meeting her in the near-future.



Back To The Beginning

It has now been almost six years since the legislature pulled a “fast one” on public education in Alabama by passing the Alabama Accountability Act.  And with more and more people realizing that the bill has never been what it was touted to be, I thought it might be useful to go all the way back to the very first post on this blog written the day after AAA was crammed down our throats.

At last count, I have written more than 70 articles on this topic.  For anyone wishing to do some homework, I suggest you look at the menu on the right side of this page that shows articles by categories.  Click on “accountability act” to find them all.

The Birth of the Alabama Accountability Act
by Larry Lee | Mar 1, 2013

School kids make a poor rope in a political tug of war.

Anyone in Alabama who doesn’t believe this should’ve been in Montgomery Feb. 28 when the Republican controlled legislature voted to approve what some reporters called “a legislative bombshell.” The Senate approved what is officially known as the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013 on a vote of 22-11. The House of Representatives’ vote was 51-26.

It’s hard to tell if opponents were more upset about the contents of the bill or the tactics used to get it approved.

But one thing is certain, in spite of protestations by those on the prevailing side; this battle was not about school kids. If it was about education, why did Dr. Tommy Bice, the state’s superintendent of education, not know about it? After all he is the one person most accountable for the education of 735,000 public school students.

Why did the State Board of Education, with six elected Republican members and two elected Democratic members not know about it? After all, they are the only elected body in the state whose sole responsibility is overseeing education policy.

If this was really about education, why did the Republican leader of the Senate, who says he’d worked on this for a week, tell reporters that he worked hard to keep what he was doing a secret from even those who had signed on in good faith to support the original bill?

“We knew they would oppose what we were trying to do,” he said.

Interpretation: Since we had hatched up a scheme to fundamentally change public education in this state, the last thing we wanted was input from professional educators.

Yep, makes sense to me. Maybe next time the legislature will tackle a healthcare issue. I sure hope they make sure no doctors or nurses know what they are doing.

What was the scheme used to pass the bill?

Go to a conference committee composed of three House members and three Senators (Four Republicans and two Democrats) where each body is supposed to iron out their differences and report the compromises back to their respective bodies. But instead of doing this, an eight page bill went into the committee and morphed into one of 28 pages that was much different than the original bill.

This is when the fur hit the fan because the rules of both bodies prevent a conference committee from reporting out a bill that is substantially different than the original one. But obviously when you are doing something for school kids, why pay attention to rules? After all, isn’t that what we all teach our own kids to do, just ignore the rules you don’t like.

As I think of all of this I keep thinking back to the night of Feb. 19 when the State Department of Education recognized 20 high-poverty schools (the very kind of schools the backers of this legislation say they are so concerned about) as Torchbearer Schools.

All 140 members of the House and Senate were invited to attend this event by Governor Bentley. Only one Senator came. It was not the majority leader. Maybe he was hidden away somewhere working on legislation to benefit education and didn’t have time to visit with 20 of the top principals in Alabama and ask for their input.

Time after time we hear legislative leaders talk about “Alabama values.” Is this what we saw in practice this week? I was born in Alabama. Mother and Daddy were born in Alabama. Grandma and Grandpa were born in Alabama. So I’m about as qualified to know our “values” as anyone. And what was on display in Montgomery Feb. 28 bore no resemblance to the Alabama values I was taught.

But the only value any of us really need to heed is on page 1,414 of my King James Version of the Bible. Matthew 7:12—Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.

It’s a sad day for all of us when our political leadership tramples on such a simple truth.

Tallapoosa County Latest To Call For Accountability Act Repeal

The list of local school boards calling for the repeal of the Alabama Accountability Act increased on Nov. 27 when the Tallapoosa County board joined with earlier efforts by Mobile, Baldwin and Montgomery school boards.

The vote was a unanimous 5-0.  In fact, it was an enthusiastic unanimous.  Dr. Betty Carol Graham, retired educator and a former four term member of the Alabama House of Representatives, said that she has been opposed to the legislation since it was enacted in 2013.

“The fact that this act takes money away from small school systems like ours (Tallapoosa County has three high schools and just under 3,000 students) makes no sense at all,” said superintendent Joe Windle.  “We do an excellent job of managing our money–but every penny is important and we don’t need to take money from the state’s Education Trust Fund that could go into our classrooms.”

Here is the Tallapoosa resolution in its entirety:


Resolution for Accountability Act Repeal

WHEREAS, the legislation known as the Alabama Accountability Act was passed in 2013 with no guidance or input from educators; and in a bait and switch operation and

WHEREAS, this act has caused a negative financial impact on Tallapoosa County

WHEREAS, this act was initially touted as a way to help students who attended “failing schools” by offering them a pathway to non-failing schools or scholarships to private schools; and

WHEREAS, various studies have consistently shown that less than 35 percent of all scholarships go to students “zoned” for “failing schools”; and

WHEREAS, research from the University of Alabama about academic achievement of students in the Alabama Accountability Act shows, “In 78 percent of the comparisons made between scholarship recipients and public school students, there was no statistically significant difference between the scholarship recipients and students attending public schools;” and

WHEREAS, each dollar designated for scholarships is a dollar diverted from the Alabama Education Trust Fund; and

WHEREAS, since 2013 the total amount of such donations is $146.6 million, which amounts to over $686,000 dollars for Tallapoosa County Schools; and

WHEREAS, the Tallapoosa County School System has struggled the last 14 years to meet one month operating expense and maintain a balanced budget; and

WHEREAS, AAA labels schools, faculty, staff and students as failing when academic growth is being shown in these schools each year;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Tallapoosa County Board of Education strongly recommends to the Alabama Legislature that the Alabama Accountability Act be repealed when the legislature meets in regular session in 2019.

Adopted this 27^ day of November, 2018


The Iron Bowl And Education

As I watched the team in white (Auburn) get methodically picked apart by the team in red (Alabama) last Saturday to the tune of 52 points to 21 points, I couldn’t help but equate this to a situation unfolding in Montgomery about charter schools.

What IF the two teams switched uniforms at half time?  Would the team now wearing red continue to dominate the game?  Or would we still have the same players just in different uniforms?

Fantasy?  Not really.

Because this is what is being proposed by a plan of the Montgomery Education Foundation to convert some existing schools to charters.  When this plan was unveiled to the public at a meeting at Lanier high school months ago, we were told that the students who today attend the schools to be confiscated and made charters will remain the same.

This includes an elementary school where the principal guesstimates that 90 percent of her students come from single parent homes and where the PTA only has ONE parent member.

Let’s call them the team in white.

According to the charter conversion proponents, the school year will be lengthened at this school, more special services will be provided, an education management organization will be hired to run the school and existing teachers may be replaced by non-certified teachers.  And all of this will be done on the same amount of funding the school now receives.

In other words, the students are now the team in red, even though 90 percent of them still live in a single portent home and the PTA only has ONE parent member.

It will be nothing less than a miracle.

And since miracles don’t happen every day, it would seem that the good folks at the Montgomery Educatio0n Foundation would be so proud of what they are about to create that they would have rushed out and told the Montgomery school board what they were want to do and ask for their blessing and input.  However, that is not the case at all.  If anyone on the MPS board has been briefed about this plan, I don’t know who it is.  I certainly have not been.

THIS is what some folks in Montgomery consider progress?  Sleight of hand and smoke and mirrors?

God help us all.