Being no stranger to the way politics is played, I am seldom aghast when I look at candidate and PAC financial disclosure forms. Not much surprises me.
However, when you see the deck is decidedly stacked in a certain candidate’s favor by some special interest group, you can’t help but wonder what is going on.
And so it is when I see that the Business Council of Alabama has now given more than $150,000 to two candidates running for the State Board of Education. According to info on the Secretary of State’s website, BCA has contributed $54,000 to Matt Brown in District One and either $107,255 or $94,755 to Justin Barkley in District Three.
(Barkley’s financials show he has gotten $107,255, but forms for BCA’s ProgressPac show only $94,755.)
Sure BCA says they have a great interest in education because we must have a better-trained workforce. No one will disagree with that.
But it’s when you look at some of the issues they promote that questions arise. Their self-published book, The Next New Start, details that they support the Alabama Accountability Act and charter schools. They were a sponsor for the 2015 School Choice rally at the state capitol and have worked with both the Black Alliance for Education Options and StudentsFirst, neither of which are considered friends of public education.
BCA created the Business Education Alliance a few years ago and Joe Morton, former state superintendent of education is the CEO and President. Within recent months Morton has praised both the RAISE Act and the accountability act.
But it is this statement on the BEA website that is most unsettling.
“Just as competitors force businesses to improve quality, service and products for their customers in order to maintain a share of the market, school choice does the same for failing schools.”
This is the very worn, very misguided and very untrue mantra to run schools like a business. As I recently sat in former Teacher of the Year Gay Barnes’ first-grade classroom in Madison, AL and watched her work with 21 children, I never once thought she was running a business.
She was working with 21 individual children–not widgets. They were all different. They all came from different suppliers. They were each at a different stage of learning.
How any group can ignore this reality is beyond my comprehension. And the fact that a group who does not understand this is now pouring thousands upon thousands of dollars into two state school board is alarming.
Normally the candidate with the deepest pockets wins. But certainly not always.
I am one example. In 1994 I was one of three candidates in southeast Alabama running for an open state senate seat. A very large part of my support came from BCA. Yep, the same group I’ve just been writing about. (But that was 22 years ago and it was a different organization back then.)
We outspent the other two candidates, yet narrowly lost in a runoff.
Betty Peters, who serves on the SBOE from Dothan is another example. She was opposed in 2014 by retired school superintendent Barry Sadler. She raised $25,569 while Sadler got $85,000 from BCA, $15,000 from StudentsFirst and $53,034 from the Alabama Federation for Children.
Peters got 58.5 percent of the primary vote against her heavily-funded opponent.
And in 2008, the Alabama Education Association went all out to try and defeat incumbent board member Stephanie Bell, who is facing challenger and BCA favorite Justin Barkley on Tuesday.
Bell faced Skip Smithwick of Sylacauga in the Republican primary. He raised an unbelievable $290,337; as compared to her $120,370.
The election was a blowout for Bell as she got 67.7 percent of the primary vote and came back in the November general election and again got 67.7 percent against another candidate.
The fat lady will sing on Tuesday, March 1 and we will see how it all turns out. And we will see how successful BCA is in moving our schools in a direction that might be good for a handful–but certainly not the masses.