It was standing room only in Statehouse room 304 Tuesday when the Senate Education & Youth Affairs committee, chaired by Senator Dick Brewbaker, held a public hearing on the infamous RAISE/PREP bill.

When all was said and done and 16 people had testified, the committee passed the bill on to the full senate on a 5-4 vote.  Voting in favor were: Senator (R) Trip Pittman, Senator (R) Jim McClendon, Senator (R) Shay Shellnutt, Senator (R) Dick Brewbaker and Senator (R)Marsh.  Those in opposition were Senator (R) Paul Bussman, Senator (D) Quinton Ross, Senator (D) Vivian Figures and Senator (D) Hank Sanders.

Nine spoke against the bill while seven spoke in favor.  Unfortunately, time ran out before several who were opposed could speak.  Those who spoke in opposition were: Dickie Barlow, Mountain Brook superintendent; Joni Lakin, a professor at Auburn University; Scott Coefield, Pelham superintendent; Joe Windle, Tallapoosa superintendent; Ann Monroe, a teacher in Jackson County: Craig Kelley, Hoover City school board; Mark Kirkemier with the state department of education; Jennifer Brown, Vestavia Hills high science teacher and current Teacher of the Year: and Shelia Remington, president of the Alabama Education Association.

Lining up on the pro side were: a Montgomery middle school principal; a counselor from Montgomery’s LAMP magnet school, a representative of the National Council on Teacher Quality; Joe Morton, former state school superintendent who now works for the Business Council of Alabama; Katherine Robinson of the Alabama Policy Institute; Deena Weston, a Montgomery parent; and Billy Canary, CEO of the Business Council of Alabama.

Observations–

Immediately after the hearing, Senator Marsh, who is President Pro Tem, issued a press release stating, “This piece of legislation is a major win for students, parents and effective teachers.”  However, as you can see above, most of those who testified against the bill were educators.  Obviously they just don’t understand when they are being helped.

Scott Coefield stated that trust and timing are always important and this bill does absolutely nothing to build trust between the education community and the legislature.  He also noted that the recent announcement that state superintendent Tommy Bice will step down at the end of March makes the timing of this bill a liability for a new state superintendent.

There was considerable discussion by opponents of the unreliability of the Value Added Model (VAM) process that will be used to evaluate teachers.  Teacher Ann Monroe, who took a day’s leave and made a 400-mile roundtrip from Jackson to speak, told of one of her eighth-graders who missed 43 days of school last semester because of drug issues his mother has.  “How prepared will he be to take a test that determines what kind of teacher I am?” she asked.

Several others spoke to the fact that circumstances far beyond the control of a teacher impact student performance.  Jennifer Brown pointed out that 50 systems in the state are already working on new evaluation plans and RAISE/PREP will simply waste all of this effort. Joe Windle said that since his rural system has spent $900,000 of local funding in the last five years on bus transportation that the state is supposed to cover, RAISE/PREP is just another unfunded mandate they can not afford.

In discussion by committee members prior to voting, Senator Bussman, the only Republican to break ranks, said we should leave education decisions and policy to educators and school boards–not legislators.  Senator Sanders followed this thought by saying that this bill is “just more politics.”

At this point Senator Brewbaker referred to Alabama’s NAEP scores several times and wondered why scores began going downhill in 2010.  This brought a quick retort from Senator Figures who noted that the Republican super majority took control of the house and senate in 2010. and began passing legislation such as the Alabama Accountability Act that is harmful to public schools.

Some appreciated her sense of humor–but not all.

Where to from here?  Considering that apparently Marsh has not be able to round up any co-sponsors for the bill and that it came out of committee by only one vote, this battle seems to be far, far from over.

 

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