Capitol report for March 16, 2013Published 6:00am Saturday, March 16, 2013
By: Sen. Roger Bedford
You would think that if we were going to fundamentally change education in Alabama that you would want the taxpayers, local school boards, parents and elected officials to have a discussion about it.
You would at least want the legislature to have an opportunity to debate education reform and have meaningful input from the school boards and superintendents of education throughout the state.
In fact, it would only make common sense to expose an issue as important as school vouchers, charter schools, and removing tenure from teachers to a lot of sunshine, accountability, and transparency so that the people who pay the taxes in this state to fund the schools would know what was going on.
However, the Alabama Republican Supermajority wanted no one to know what was about to happen to our schools except the few sitting in the smoke-filled room that hatched the plot.
It was a classic bait and switch that resulted in terrible legislation. During the course of debate on a bill to allow flexibility to local school boards a consensus was reached.
It was a bill that 105 House members and 35 Senators worked on, along with countless others concerned about education such as teachers, school board members and superintendents of education across the state.
Dr. Bice at the State Board of Education was involved in the eight-page which was sent to a conference committee. This eight page, which had been debated, viewed, read and agreed upon emerged from a conference committee as a completely different animal.
The eight page grew to a 28-page bill crafted in secret by two Republicans Senators and two Republican House Members with no input from educators.
The bill rammed through by the Republican Super Majority without any debate. In fact, no one had even seen the bill until after the Republican’s voted to allow no amendments and no debate on the bill.
After 20 minutes of chaos, the bill was rammed through. Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey’s incorrect ruling on the Senate Rules and Procedural Motions caused the chaos. At first, she had all the Democrats mad at her.
Then, she hit the gavel and ruled that we were adjourned and all the Republicans went crazy. Everyone in the Senate was on their feet trying to get recognized, about two dozen house members had come up to watch the circus.
With Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey unable to get control of the Senate or to issue a correct ruling from the chair, the chaos continued for 20 minutes.
At that time, the procedural vote, which had been taken by the Republicans to not allow debate or amendments kicked in and the bill was passed.
This Bill includes vouchers, tax crediting private charter schools and the possibility of removal of tenured teachers in Alabama.
It was such a bad Bill that the Legislative Fiscal Office, which has the responsibility of determining how much a change in the law would cost, could not even figure the hundreds of millions dollars it will cost the tax payers.
The eight page “Flex Bill”, which everyone had debated and read, became a 28 page voucher bill containing very fundamental changes in the way public education is run in this state.
It means that a student can move from one school district deemed to be failing with a school voucher or tax credit to another school.
Just one of the problems with the Bill is that the new school does not have to accept the child if they don’t want to.
One can only imagine what type of recruiting opportunities this will be for high schools when it comes to high school sports from football to baseball and all sports in between for both men and women.
In other words, a child wanting to leave a school deemed failing, because of its low academic standing, might not get to leave that “failing school” because the new school could decide to take the quarterback but refuse the student with a straight A average.
I am also very concerned about the Special Education students.
Many schools will not take the special education children when they want to transfer because of the additional cost of dealing with a child with special needs.
However, the school will not tell them that is why they are not being allowed in because that would be against the Federal Law.
This is the type of legislation that should have been debated, read, talked about in school board meetings, as well as, town hall meetings.
In short, the Republicans decided rather than to fix public education they would try to tear it apart and allow public dollars to pay for private, for profit, corporate schools.
Yes that’s right, under this bill a child could enroll in a private school and your tax dollars would pay for it.
As I am writing to you, this bill is currently before the Alabama Supreme Court.
The Alabama Education Association went to court to try to stop this Bill because it broke the Open Meetings Law, as well as, other procedural laws.
The Circuit Judge, Judge Price in Montgomery, issued a temporary restraining order, ordering the House Clerk not to transmit the bill to the Governor for signature until a hearing could be held on it.
The Republicans have appealed the order to the solidly Republican Supreme Court to try to get the Court to overturn the ruling and to back this injustice to our public education system in Alabama.
I believe we should support our schools and fix the ones that are having problems rather than putting school vouchers in place like the Republicans have done.
I appreciate all of you that have contacted me thanking me for my opposition to this bad legislation.
We are continuing to urge Governor Bentley to do the right thing and accept the Medicaid Expansion.
The Medicaid Expansion will be funded 100 percent by the Federal Government for the first 3 years. It will cover what is commonly called the working poor in Alabama.
These are people who are working and paying taxes but they cannot afford health insurance or it is not available to them at work.
This would be a huge economic engine for Alabama. Over the course of seven years, Alabama would invest $771 million in the program, and in return, the Federal Government would send us $20 billion dollars to pay for it.
It’s estimated that this expansion would help create ten thousand jobs all across Alabama because of the increased need for health services.
These 350,000 Alabamians that would be covered by Medicaid expansion could not get preventive care rather than showing up at an Emergency Room needing acute care which is vastly more expensive.
By getting preventive care, children can go to school healthy and the mom and\or dad can go to work rather than having to stay home with a sick child.
Governor Bentley is a doctor; he knows how important it is to have preventive health care. I hope that he will do what so many other Republican Governors are doing across the country and accept the roll out of Medicaid expansion to help working families in this state receive health care benefits.
You may rest assured that I will continue to push for this important program which will not only improve the quality of life in our state for 350,000 Alabamians but also create new jobs and additional tax monies through economic growth.
I am pleased to announce that the following grants were awarded in our Senate District this past week: $635 to Red Bay Elementary School’s Camera System, $500 to Bay Tree Council for the Performing Arts, $500 to Red Bay High School Beta Club Class Trip, $1,500 to Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Shoals Red Bay Buddies Program, $700 Red Bay High School Softball team, $500 Vina girls track team, $1,500 Red Bay Football Program, $1,500 Phil Campbell Tip Off Club, $1,500 Russellville High School Tennis Program, $500 Tharptown High School Baseball program, $500 Tharptown High School Softball program, $500 Vina High School Varsity Cheerleaders, $1,500 Russellville High School National Honor Society class trip, $1,000 Tharptown High School student council and drama club class trip, $800 Belgreen High School Annual Staff, $1,000 Belgreen High School Special Education Program, $1,500 East Franklin Jr. High School Baseball Program, $1,500 East Franklin Jr. High School Softball Program, $1,500 Shoals Symphony at UNA, $1,500 East Lawrence High School Baseball, $1,500 Russellville High School Baseball, $100 Vina High School PTO and $1000 to Russellville High School Singers.
Roger Bedford is a state senator for Franklin County.