The last time we heard from Rep. Ed Henry of Hartselle he was talking about phantom funds in the Education Trust Fund that even the chair of the House Ways & Means Education committee, Rep. Bill Poole, cannot find.
Now Henry tells Mary Sell of the Decatur Daily that we should abolish the state Department of Education. According to Henry, “That would save the state $1 billion and they don’t do anything, as far as I can tell, that they don’t duplicate at the local level.”
Mr. Henry first needs to go back and read some of the bills he voted for in the last regular session that dictate new duties to the state department. For instance, he voted to set up charter schools in Alabama. This bill required that the state set up a new department to work with only charter schools and all the rules and regulations that tag along.
And it’s funny that he implies that he is all for doing things at the local level, not the state. So how does he square this with the fact that the charter bill he supported sets up a politically-appointed Charter School Commission that can overturn decisions made by local school board. Henry lives in Hartselle which has a city school system. If this school board decides to become a charter school authorizer and denies a charter application, the commission in Montgomery can trash their decision and tell the charter that Hartselle is open for business.
In 2013 Henry voted for the Alabama Accountability Act that diverted at least $25 million annually from the Education Trust Fund, meaning there was potentially less money for every school in his district. In fact, Vic Wilson, the superintendent of the Hartselle city school system was one of 30 superintendents who signed a “friend of the court” brief last year urging the state Supreme Court to rule this law unconstitutional .
Again, Henry’s vote required a tremendous amount of work by the state department of education to comply with the mandates of the legislation. And in June he voted to amend the accountability act so they will now divert $30 million each year from the Education Trust Fund.
The Charter School Commission will have their first meeting at the state education department on Aug. 27. Henry should drop by and see the new bureaucracy he helped create in action.
I have never met Ed Henry. But I know he postures himself as a super conservative and someone who feels the more decisions are made at the local level, the better.
If you want to get a good look at an office holder, you can turn to the Secretary of State’s web site and look at their campaign financial info and learn a great deal. Such as in this case.
Henry ran for re-election in 2014. He had a primary opponent in the June 3rd election. He won 4,350 to 3,243. He had no opponent in the November general election. He raised $180,455 between Sept. 3, 2013 and Dec. 31, 2014. He had an additional $13,164 of in-kind contributions.
However, it’s not until you examine where he got his campaign funds and what he did with them, that a picture emerges. For instance, you would expect someone like this to largely depend on the homefolks to fund his campaign. Not so. He shows only 37 individual contributors giving $8,940. On the other hand, he shows 79 contributions from political action committees totaling $140,200.
They are a Who’s Who of Montgomery special interests, even including money from pay day lending supporters and trial lawyers. (Not so long ago we heard a constant demonization of campaign contributions from plaintiff defense attorneys by the party now in control of the legislature. Just like money from the Alabama Education Association, it was tainted. Somewhere along the way it became green–not tainted, and folks like Henry welcome their checks.)
And if he is intent on making sure decisions are made at the local level, why was his single largest contribution of $15,000 from StudentsFirst out of Sacremento, CA. Does he think lobbyists from California know more about educating students in Alabama than Alabama educators do? He also took $1,000 from the Alabama Federation for Children, the group that raised $350,000 from millionaires in Arkansas, California and Michigan to spend on political races in Alabama in 2014.
Maybe the folks in California are telling Henry that the Alabama Department of Education is unnecessary.
Campaign expenditures are basically “no holds barred.” Which is why you often see candidate expenses and scratch your head. For instance, Henry says he spent $4,021 with American Express on June 1, 2014. But there is no explanation for what. What was the purpose of a check for $3,625 on July 3, 2014 to “Auburn Athletics?” Or the one for $860 to “University of Alabama” on April 31, 2014.
What about the payment of $754 on Oct. 3, 2014 to Delta? Can you fly from Vinemont to Laceys Spring? Or a meal at Arnaud’s restaurant in New Orleans? What about the cab rides in Washington, DC? Remember, his last election was June 3, but from July through December he spent $23,760 out of his campaign account.
To Henry’s credit he contributed more than $8,000 from his campaign funds to help local schools and band and athletic programs.
Still this does not erase the doubt created by knowing what I now know. Is Ed Henry really who he says he is and should his ideas be taken seriously?
And if I were him at this point in time when the legislature has just had a special session and wasted another $500,000 of taxpayer’s money, I would tread lightly with the notion of abolishing anything in Montgomery. Given their choice, I believe the good folks of this state would run the legislature out of town right now before they would the educators.