With the election for the District One seat on the State Board of Education (Mobile, Baldwin, Escambia, Conecuh, Butler, Crenshaw, Covington counties) now less than two weeks away (March 1), the sordid underbelly of who is trying to control our schools is coming to light.
There are four candidates in the Republican primary for this seat. Incumbent Matthew Brown, who was appointed to fill a vacancy by Governor Bentley last July, former teacher Carl Myrick of Foley, city council member from Chickasaw Adam Bourne and retired school principal Jackie Zeigler from Mobile.
Brown’s appointment was greeted with dismay by educators around the state since he never attended public school and worked hard to defeat a school tax vote for Baldwin County schools last March. Many questioned why the governor wanted someone on the state board who had never shown interest in helping public schools. After all, the state board is supposed to be an ADVOCATE for public schools, not an ADVERSARY.
Now the fact that Brown has taken $25,000 in a campaign contribution that came from Michigan millionaires Dick and Betsy DeVos indicates that those who questioned the governor’s appointment were right to do so.
According to information on the Alabama Secretary of State website that shows campaign financial info, the Michigan couple donated $25,000 each on Feb. 11, 2016 to the Alabama Federation for Children. The following day, Feb. 12, 2016, the group sent $25,000 to Brown’s campaign.
The significance of this is that the couple has a long history of supporting things such as charter schools, vouchers and most any other effort to privatize public schools.
Betsy DeVos is chair of the American Federation for Children, the Alabama organization is an affiliate. Among other things, AFC is closely linked to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization noted for supplying model legislation that is decidedly anti-public schools. (It has long been thought that ALEC was a chef source of language that made up the Alabama Accountability Act.)
And the web gets even more tangled. The Vice Chair of the American Federation for Children is none other than John Kirtley of Tampa, FL who heads the Step Up For Students scholarship granting organization in Florida and is the controlling entity of the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund scholarship granting organization created by former Governor Bob Riley. In fact, Kirtley is one of six board members for the Riley SGO.
Brown has also received $36,000 in contributions from the Business Council of Alabama. This is the entity which started the Business Education Alliance, whose CEO Joe Morton has proclaimed his support for both the Alabama Accountability Act and the RAISE Act. Knowing what I know about both the accountability act and RAISE, I find it difficult to believe anyone supporting them is truly a real friend of our public schools.
I do not know Betsy or Dick DeVos. However, I do know Gay Barnes who teaches the first grade at Horizon elementary in the Madison city school system. She was Alabama Teacher of the Year in 2011. I spent one hour in her classroom this morning watching her coach and cajole and hug her 21 students. There were nine girls and twelve boys. I quickly recognized that Gay’s class is African-American, Oriental, Hispanic and Caucasian. None of them were alike. Watching her was like watching the conductor of a great orchestra at work.
I seriously doubt either Betsy or Dick DeVos have ever been in Gay’s classroom. In fact I would be surprised it they have ever been in ANY Alabama classroom. And the fact that they send $50,000 to Alabama in an attempt to negatively disrupt what Gay does each day is both offensive and disheartening.
And the fact that a candidate for our state board of education, such as Matthew Brown, would take their money says that he is far more interested in his own political future than he is in the future of our public school students. It is a sad, sad statement about what lies ahead for our state.