Checking In On The Governor’s Race

Traditionally. campaigns for a November general election don’t really kick off until Labor Day.  However, there doesn’t seem to be much “traditional” about politics these days and because it’s now just three months until Nov. 6th, let’s peek at the governor’s race between Republican Kay Ivey and Democrat Walt Maddox.

Unlike in many elections, voters will have a clear choice between Ivey and Maddox.  Age being the most obvious difference.  On the one hand, Ivey looks like everyone’s kindly grandmother, while Maddox is in his mid-40s and seeks to portray a more vigorous, energetic image.

From the outset Ivey has been the hands on favorite.  After all, she dispatched her primary opponents with little problem.  However, some recent polls are showing the race tightening, though Ivey maintains a comfortable lead.

A good barometer for most campaigns in to check on fund-razing.  While Ivey, like any incumbent, has the advantage in collecting contributions, the just-released financial reports for July for both candidates gives validity to the contention that the race is becoming more competitive.

“Major” donations are considered those of $20,000 or more.  These are to be reported to the Secretary of State immediately upon receipt.  As to be expected, Ivey has done much better than Maddox in tapping such donors.  She has raised about $700,000 from more than 20 major donors, while Maddox only lists two (and one of these is a $50,000 contribution from himself).

Somewhat surprisingly, both were essentially head to head in money raised the last month.  Ivey got $248,523 while Maddox got $245,024.  And Maddox is slightly ahead with cash on hand.  He shows a balance of $313,248 as compared to Ivey’s 271,476.

It’s their approach to fund-raising that is worth noting.  In July, Maddox had more than 550 individual donors, while Ivey had less than 80.  This was not an anomaly as Maddox had nearly 900 contributors in June and May, compared to about 260 for Ivey.  The governor has far more political action committee (PAC) contributions than Maddox does.

I’ve always said that big money invests and little money gives.  Meaning simply that a check for $5,000 includes little more than that while a check for $100 may include a substantial commitment of time in contacting neighbors, writing postcards or knocking on doors.

No doubt the smart money remains on Ivey, but Maddox is certainly proving that he is not to be taken lightly.

Time To Take Politics Out Of The Classroom

One thing I know for certain is that of the hundreds of classrooms I’ve been in, I have NEVER seen one labeled as Republican, Democrat, Independent, Libertarian or whatever.  As best I can tell, classrooms, especially in elementary schools, are about as apolitical as you can get.

So why do we insist on interjecting politics into county school board elections when we don’t do it for municipal school board seats?  Why the double standard?

If a city school board seat is considered non-partisan, why not the same for county school boards?  After all, a county school board is a small body of people where, at least in my opinion, any political allegiance should be checked at the door.  We live in a time where partisanship to some political party or ideology plays far too great a role in actions politicians take.  This has no place where school children are involved.

Obviously my recent experience in running for the Montgomery County school board as a Republican figure greatly in this discussion.  When I qualified I had the notion that candidates would have candid and frank discussions about ideas concerning education and voters would make their choice based on the same.

What ensued was almost anything BUT this.  My candidacy as a Republican was challenged, not once, but twice.  Instead of thinking about education issues, I was forced to spend a lot of time and energy defending my candidacy.  And though both challenges were denied, I was still the object of negative campaigning that centered on partisan politics–not education.

However, had I and all the other candidates running not been branded by a party label, just simply citizens trying to offer their services, the tone of the campaigns would certainly have been different.

All municipal school board members are non-partisan.  When someone in Decatur, Birmingham or Dothan run for their local school board they don’t run as a Republican or Democrat.

We need to do the same for county boards.

Here is how it could work.

There were votes for five different board seats in Montgomery on June 5.  District 1 had a Democrat primary but the incumbent Republican was unopposed and will run in November.  District 2 had five candidates in both Democrat and Republican primaries.  District 3 only had two Democrats running.  District 5 had two Republicans and four Democrats, while District 6 had five Democrats.

So all candidates, Democrat and Republican alike, would have been listed on the respective district ballots as non-partisan.    For instance, in District 2, where I ran, ballots given to both Republican and Democrat primary voters would have had all five candidates listed together with instructions to vote for one.  If no candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote getters would then face each other in the general election.

District 2 had a total of 5,043 votes cast in both primaries.  Ted Lowry lead all candidates with 2,186 votes.  I got 896, Democrats Brenda Irby got 833, Clare Weil got 741 and Misty Messick had 387.  Since Lowry did not get a majority on June 5, he and I would run again in November.

This is not to imply that had all 5,043 voters had the chance to vote for any one of the five candidates that the end result would’ve been the same.  For instance, I am certain Democrat Clare Weil would have gotten a number of Republican votes and I would have gotten some that went to a Democrat.  And for certain the dynamics of campaigns would have changed.

An open primary would be a more “honest” process because candidates would have to appeal to all potential voters, not just those who are most likely to vote either for a Democrat or a Republican.  You would not have what are basically white campaigns and black campaigns, but ones where all voters are considered equals in the first election.

District 5 was the only other district with both Republican and Democrat primaries.  A total of 7,394 votes were cast.  Republican Jannah Bailey got 3,075 votes, Republican Melissa Snowden got 1,967 and Democrats Rhonda Oats got 1,075, Devona Sims got 610, Carey Owens, Jr. got 427 and Dianelle Gross got 240.  Which means Bailey and Snowden would run again in November.

While we normally think that the top two vote getters usually run to see who comes out on top, under our present system, this is not the case.  Though Snowden and I got more votes on June 5 than any of the Democrats in our district, we were eliminated.

I am sure there will be people who claim my proposal is only because of how the June 5 election turned out, but that is not the case.  I strongly believe our present system puts too much focus on politics and too little on how schools should be governed.  Besides, we are already doing this for municipal school board elections.

I have run this idea by a number of Republican friends, especially legislators.  Not ONE has raised an objection.

All we need is one of the 140 members of the legislature to propose such a change.

 

A Close Look At State School Board Election In District 2

One of the most competitive elections in the July 17 runoff was between Tracie West of Auburn and Melanie Hill of Dothan to see who would be the Republican nominee and go against Democrat Adam Jortner in November.  Hill got the most votes on June 5 with 19,.677.  West was close behind with 18,963 while John Taylor of Dothan got 17,038 and Sybil Little of Coffee County got 4,159.

When the final votes were counted for the runoff, West eked out a win with 21,546 votes to Hill’s 20,917.

This is an odd-shaped district running from Madrid on the Alabama-Florida border in Houston County to Borden Springs, 20 miles north of Heflin on the other end.  It is definitely a north-south region with Barbour, Houston, Geneva, Coffee, Henry and Dale counties in the south and Cleburne, Clay, Randolph, Chambers, Russell, Lee and Tallapoosa in the north.

Incumbent Betty Peters was elected to this seat in 2002 and decided to not seek re-election.

West, a member of the Auburn city school board and Hill, a former member of the Dothan city school board, were the favorites going into June 5.  John Taylor of Houston County and Sybil Little of Coffee County were also contenders. Taylor ran a stronger race than most expected.  The fact that he is considered “hard right” on the political spectrum and got 28.5 percent of the primary vote makes a strong statement as to which way the political winds blow in this region.  In fact he was the top vote getter in Clay, Randolph and Russell counties on June 5.

As in most cases with campaigns, money was definitively a factor in the final outcome.  West had a clear advantage over Hill in this regard.  The most recent info from the Secretary of State’s website shows she spent $109,000,  She raised $60,000 and put in nearly an additional $63,000 herself.  She got $13,500 from the state realtors political action committee and $1,000 from the state home builders PAC.

By comparison, Hill spent almost $37,000 and raised $42,000.  She received $11,600 from the Alabama Farmers Federation and $15,000 from the Business Council of Alabama.

The north-south configuration of the district seemed to favor Hill in the runoff.  For instance, in the June 5 primary, 43.4 percent of the total vote came from Russell County and counties north of there.  Southern counties had 56.6 percent of the vote.  In addition, both Little and Taylor were from the south.

Turnout is always an issue in runoff elections as there are few races on the ballot.  Here again, due to the runoff for Congress in District 2 (which is configured differently than school board District 2) between Martha Roby and Bobby Bright, Hill had the advantage.  All  of the southern counties in the school board district (Barbour, Coffee, Dale, Geneva, Henry, Houston) are in Congressional District 2.  The fact that the southern counties had 58.5 percent of the vote on July 17 (as compared to 56.6 on June 5) proved this advantage.

So West had to “hold serve” in the north end of the district, while making inroads in the south, to win on July 17.  To her credit, she did just that.  She won all seven northern counties in the runoff, plus also won Barbour and Coffee.

West’s financial advantage was evident in the runoff as she spent $23,544 while Hill spent only $9,229.  This enabled her to call on campaign consultants in Lexington, KY who have also helped state board member Cynthia McCarty and Secretary of State John Merrill.

(Editor’s note:  The key issue in the runoff appeared to be Common Core, with West contending that she has opposed this longer than Hill had.  Evidence also shows that West aligned herself with staunch anti-Common Core foes.  Given that West chairs the Auburn City school system board, one of the best and most progressive systems in Alabama, I have a hard time understanding this move.

This would mean that West would like to abolish the Alabama College & Career Ready standards which would mean throwing away millions of dollars spent on training teachers and making adaptations.  Right now the state is trying to development a new statewide assessment instrument to replace ACT Aspire.  This effort would have to be shelved.  So we would spend probably five years and untold monies to get new standards and a new assessment.

I have emailed West asking for an explanation of her position, but have had no response)

West will face Adam Jortner of Auburn in the November general election..

 

 

 

 

 

Bless Her Heart, Rep. Terri Collins Just Can’t Connect The Dots

Rep. Terri Collins of Decatur chairs the House Education Policy Committee and therefore, plays a key role in legislation impacting public schools.  She is the sponsor of the infamous A-F school report card bill that adds no value whatsoever to our education efforts.

We have written many times how the grading system used for school report cards and the one used by the Alabama Accountability Act to designate “failing” paint unreliable and inaccurate pictures of what such measures are supposed to mean.

To their credit, The Anniston Star and reporter Lee Hedgepeth, took notice of how absurd this situation is and investigated.  Hedgepeth begins his article this way:

“The State of Alabama isn’t a consistent grader.

A comparison of the state’s “failing” schools list and its education report cards show a wide disparity in how schools are labeled across the Yellowhammer State.

Seventy-five schools are labeled as “failing” under the Alabama Accountability Act, but the state says 104 schools earned an “F” on their education report cards. Of those 104 schools that received Fs, only 37 are labeled as “failing” under the act.

Lawmakers passed the Alabama Accountability Act in 2013 to encourage students zoned for schools labeled as “failing” — those that score in the bottom 6 percent on certain test scores — to transfer to other schools through the use of tax-credit funded scholarships.

State education report cards, on the other hand, are the result of a 2012 law that brought Alabama into compliance with a federal push for transparency measures like A through F report cards. School report cards were finally released in February after years of delay.”

Then, as any good reporter would do, Hedgepeth talked to Collins.  Her response is, well, basically mind-blowing.

“Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, was a sponsor of the report card legislation in Alabama and also supported the Alabama Accountability Act.

Collins said Friday she doesn’t see any issue with the inconsistency in labels.

“These are just totally separate things,” she said. “The Accountability Act is just based on a single test score. The report card grades are based on many different contributing factors.”

TOTALLY SEPARATE THINGS?

Tell that to teachers, students, principals and administrators who see their school get an F on one system according to A-F–but are not one of the 75 “failing” schools.  Which are they to believe?  Or what about a school deemed as “failing” by the accountability act–but does not get an F on their school report card?

Or take Montgomery where a group has spent nearly $100,000 to scream from the rooftops how terrible the school system is.  According to the accountability act, 11 of these schools are “failing” and 17 are F schools.  (And three of the “failing’ schools are not an F.)  Which info will the anti MPS group use?  Naturally, the info that paints the worst picture.

TOTALLY SEPARATE THINGS?

Only to someone making law about education who apparently spends precious little time in schools trying to understand what they are really all about and how detrimental such poorly thought out ideas can be.

 

 

 

 

 

Mass Confusion

Two pieces of legislation graphically illustrate how Alabama enacts laws that make little sense and defy logic.

One is a bill passed in 2012 that assigns a letter grade of A, B, C, D or F to every school in the state.  The other is the Alabama Accountability Act passed in 2013 that declares that the bottom six percent of all schools should be labeled “failing.”

Common sense tells us that a “failing” school in all probability would also be one with an “F” grade.  Surely there must be some common linkage between both of these measurements?  Guess again.

For instance, of the 75 schools designated as “failing” by the Alabama Accountability Act in January 2018, only 36 of them received an F according to the A-F school report card measurements.

Of the remaining 39, two got a C and 37 got a D.

So, we put out info last January saying there are 75 “failing” schools.  Then we come along shortly after saying, no only half of them are..

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Each year the Council for Leaders of Alabama Schools (CLAS) goes through an extensive process to identify “Banner Schools” from each of the districts represented on the state board of education.

There are eight districts.  Three schools are chosen from each district and then one from each district.

Here are the top three from each district for 2018, with the score as given by the state A-F school report card.  The overall winner is the last  one listed.

District 1—Baker high, Mobile County system—C

Citronelle high, Mobile County system—C

Mary B. Austin elementary, Mobile County system—B

District 2—Kinston school, Coffee County system—B

Lance elementary, Lanett city system—D

Eufaula elementary, Eufaula city system—D

District 3—Meadow View elementary, Alabaster city system—C

Montevallo elementary, Shelby County system—B

Childersburg middle, Talladega County system—B

District 4—Central elementary, Tuscaloosa city system—D

Westlawn middle, Tuscaloosa city system—F

Paul W. Bryant high, Tuscaloosa city system—D

District 5—Pike County high, Pike County system—B

U.S. Jones elementary, Demopolis city system—C

Booker T. Washington high, Macon County system—D

District 6—Cullman elementary, Cullman city system—A

Hartselle intermediate, Hartselle city system—A

Boaz high, Boaz city system—C

District 7—Florence high, Florence city system—B

Howell Graves preschool, Muscle Shoals city system—NA

Russellville high, Russellville city system–B

District 8—James Clemens high, Madison city system—A

Mill Creek elementary, Madison city system—A

Riverton elementary, Madison County system—B

So, you have 24 of the better performing schools in the state, as selected by experienced educators and the A-F school report card says there are more Cs and Ds than As.

One final look at insanity.

When you look at the high schools in the state with the 20 HIGHEST average ACT scores and the 20 with the LOWEST, you discover they have one thing in common.

According to the A-F school report card, both lists have one C school on them.

McIntosh high school in Washington County has an average ACT of only 14.7.  In fact, there are only two schools that are lower.  Grissom high in Huntsville has an average of 23.1 ACT.  There are only five schools in the state higher than Grissom.

But the A-F school report card system says both are C schools.  Forget the 8.4 points difference in ACT scores, someone wants us to believe they are equals.

Again, logic is no where to be found when looking at letter grades for high schools and ACT scores.

Since there are supposedly 134 A schools statewide, would seem that the top 20 ACT scores would all rate an A?  Nope.  There are six As, 13 Bs and the aforementioned C.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are 104 F schools.  Again, enough to give every school on the bottom of ACT scores an F.  Wrong again.  There are five Fs, 14 Ds and one C.

And we wonder why teachers and administrators pull out their hair?  It’s because they are constantly whipsawed by such nonsense that at the end of the day is only used to make public schools look bad.

 

BCA’s Canary Flies The Coop

The political grapevine hummed Friday, July 6 with news that Billy Canary, long time CEO of the Business Council of Alabama, announced his resignation.  Canary has been in hot water for months concerning his management style and combative approach to working with legislators.

And apparently the water got too hot to handle in recent weeks when several of the stalwarts of the organization, such as Alabama Power, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Regions bank and PowerSouth, made very public withdrawals.

Canary became CEO in 2003 and BCA became one of the most powerful lobbying forces in Alabama.  His influence skyrocketed in 2010 when the backlash against the election of President Obama created a supermajority of Republicans in both the Alabama House and Senate.  With Del Marsh firmly in control of the Senate and Mike Hubbard as Speaker of the House, Canary was clearly in the catbird’s seat.

This was about the same time that BCA began spending money trying to get their friends elected to the state school board.  Like real money.  Like hundreds of thousands of dollars on some races.  For instance they spent nearly $300,000 in 2016 hoping to elect Justin Barkley in place of incumbent Stephanie Bell and hoping that appointed incumbent Matt Brown could hold off the challenge of Jackie Zeigler.  Both were unsuccessful.

Several years ago BCA created the Business Education Alliance and hired former state school superintendent Joe Morton and former chair of the House Ways & Means Education committee Jay Love.  This group’s playbook looked like something straight from the American Legislative Exchange Council or a Jeb Bush foundation.  One would be hard-pressed to call either an advocate for public schools.

Me being me, I have not shied from pointing out the shortcomings of BCA’s effort to shape public education.  Like here and here.

And in the world of an eye for an eye, BCA played an active role in making sure I lost in the primary for a seat on the Montgomery County school board.  Billy Canary gave my opponent $250 and Jay Love gave him $1,500, in addition to activities by various and sundry other BCA operatives.

Now that I think about it, mine may be the last hide that Canary can tack on his wall of trophies.  Which is not saying much when your target is a 75-year-old candidate for a local school board.  For sure, BCA’s contributions to state school board candidates in the 2018 election cycle are nowhere close to as large as they were just two years ago.

What happens now?  How does Canary’s absence impact BCA and their stance of public education?  They are a powerful group for sure and could definitely be impactful in working with public education to tackle some challenges.  But over the past few years, they have seemed intent to be a public education adversary–not an ally.

We can only hope for a change.