My first piece about the infamous Alabama Accountability Act was written three and one-half years ago. March 1, 2013 to be exact. I was incredulous then at what the legislature had the gall to do. And now, after we have diverted more than $70 million from the Education Trust Fund to fund this program, I still am.
This legislation is a constant reminder of what our supermajority leadership is capable of doing and how they perceive education issues in this state. It is why any time I hear someone in the Statehouse say, “It is all about the kids” I just shake my head in disgust.
It is an issue that should stick in the craw of every educator in Alabama.
And so you don’t forget, here it is again.
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.