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Senate Passes Education Budget

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Wednesday, April 13, the Alabama Senate passed a $6.3 billion Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget for fiscal year 2017 (FY17).

Next year’s education budget includes: strategic increases for community colleges, student assessments, and scholarships for veterans. It also funds a four percent pay increase for teachers, support staff, principals, and most education employees. Education workers making over $75,000 per year who are not principals and assistant principals get just a two percent raise.

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Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) said, “I want to commend Senator Orr’s hard work on passing his first Education Trust Fund (ETF) as chair of the committee. This fiscally-responsible budget is another step in the right direction as we were able to give teachers a raise, provide a bonus to retirees and increase money for textbooks while making sure money is reserved for future use.”

Lt. Governor Kay Ivey (R) said, “When Republicans took charge of the Senate in 2010, many difficult choices had to be made about the future of our approach to funding education. Now, educators and students are benefiting from the structural changes made over the past five years.”

Senate Finance & Taxation Education Committee Chairman Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) said that the pay increase was necessary to keep and attract quality teachers. “If you are going to attract quality people to education, it is imperative that you compensate them accordingly. The legislature understands this and that it’s been nine years since educators have seen a true raise. I’m pleased the support was overwhelming.”

Sen. Orr said that there was not enough money in the budget to give education retirees a raise or a one time bonus; but that the bonus was a top priority for next year.

Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper) said, “Senate Republicans have made education funding and accountability a key priority. This year’s budget shows our commitment to education and the amazing teachers, support staff, and administrators that make it all work.”

Finance & Taxation Education Committee Vice Chairman Rusty Glover (R-Semmes) said, “Education is the foundation of economic growth. When we invest in our students and schools, we get a tremendous return. Senate Republicans did just that today.”

One major point of contention was supplemental appropriations for Talladega College, Lyman Ward Military Academy, and Tuskegee University. Sen. Phil Williams (R-Rainbow City) said that philosophically as a conservative he can not support diverting taxpayer dollars to those private schools. The three supplemental bills barely got the 24 votes necessary for passage. Six Senators led by Williams opposed the measures.

Because the Senate made changes to the budget as passed by the House, the Senate Republican Caucus said that they expected that the budget bill will go to a conference committee to work out the differences which they called “minor.”

Senator Marsh is still not satisfied with where Alabama’s public education system is today and that there is still a lot of work to do.

Sen. Marsh said, “Alabama is still 46th and 50th in reading and math, respectively, and only 16 percent of our high school graduates are college ready according to American College Testing (ACT). Education affects every part of this state and I cannot look at these numbers and accept the status quo. I am still committed to reforming our education system until there is noticeable improvement and all children are able to receive a high quality education. I look forward working with those in the education community who share my concerns on new and innovative reforms for next year.”

 

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Indian council member says Gov. Ivey is ace-in-the-hole — but not so fast

Bill Britt

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Behind closed doors in Atmore and in the halls of the U.S. Senate, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians are desperate to pass a Land Reaffirmation Act that would ensure tribal lands are safe from any lawsuit challenging their legitimacy.

PCI Tribal Council Vice President Robbie McGhee, for months, has been telling his fellow council members that Gov. Kay Ivey has agreed to take up the tribe’s cause if she is re-elected. He has assured council members that Ivey has agreed to write a letter on the tribe’s behalf to U.S. Senator Richard Shelby encouraging him to back passage of a Land Reaffirmation Act to protect the tribe’s vast gambling empire. He has also said appointed Attorney General Steve Marshall will join Ivey, but at the moment, Marshall is struggling to keep the job disgraced Gov. Robert Bentley gave him, despite the hundreds of thousands of dollars he’s getting from PCI-backed Progress PAC.

Both Gov. Ivey’s and Senator Shelby’s people have confirmed to the Alabama Political Reporter that they have no intention of supporting a recent U.S. House Bill, or any bill, to protect tribal lands now or in the future.

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“Senator Shelby does not support the bill and has no plans to do so in the future,” wrote Shelby’s communications director, Blair Taylor. Likewise, Gov. Ivey’s spokesperson, Daniel Sparkman, told APR, “Governor Ivey has no plans to write such a letter,” encouraging Senator Shelby to support a Land Reaffirmation Act.

“McGhee can’t even get a meeting with Kay Ivey, and he certainly isn’t going to find a warm reception at Shelby’s office,” said a longtime D.C. insider speaking on background. “McGhee stepped in it when he backed [Billy] Canary,” said the insider. “Shelby’s the man who says Canary must go [As CEO Business Council of Alabama] and McGhee is one of the main guys stopping that from happening.”

As APR warned in January, Sen. Shelby had no intentions of letting reaffirmation legislation come up for a vote in the Senate.

Senate support for Poarch Creek legal fix in jeopardy

It is no secret that the state’s senior U.S. senator is leading an effort to have Canary replaced as head of the Business Council of Alabama. Shelby, along with seven of the state’s largest corporations, are demanding Canary’s removal as BCA’s CEO, but so-far, current BCA President Perry Hand and the executive committee are defying Shelby and the corporate giants calling for Canary’s head.

PCI’s desperation dates back to a 2009, U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Carcieri v. Salazar.

In Carcieri v. Salazar, 555 U.S. 379 (2009), the Supreme Court of the United States held that the federal government could not take land into trust from any tribes that were federally recognized and acquired land after 1934. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians were not federally recognized until 1984, some 50 years after the court’s cut off date.

Under the Obama administration, the tribes had little to fear, but the same can’t be said with President Donald Trump whose interaction with Indian casinos is less than favorable.

Earlier this year, U.S. Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Mobile, successfully shepherded H.R. 1532 through the U.S. House of Representatives, which would have been a “Carcieri fix,” as the Reaffirmation Act is also known. However, the bill never made it to the floor of the Senate because Sen. Shelby refused to support the measure.

Poarch Creek have major legislative victory in Congress

McGhee seems not to understand that his alliance with Canary has drawn the ire of Sen. Shelby. Even now, McGhee is bankrolling BCA candidates that will turn the tribe into a pariah next session with little hope of recovering, according to officeholders who McGhee and Canary have offended.

And so it is that a neophyte politico representing PCI’s billion-dollar gaming interest is butting heads with one of the nation’s foremost lawmakers without even understanding the fight.

The tribe can expect nothing that McGhee has promised, and that’s coming from Capitol Hill and Goat Hill, directly.

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Elections

A wild sheriff’s race in Etowah County

Josh Moon

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The Etowah County Sheriff’s race seems fun.

For the past several weeks, current Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin has dealt with national news stories over his spending of money allocated for jail food.

Now his opponent in that race, Jonathan Horton, is facing his own bad news.

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On Tuesday, a website — www.exposethesnake.com — went live, and it contains particularly damning information on Horton, the current police chief in Rainbow City and a former Etowah County deputy.

Particularly troublesome are documents, including an arrest report, newspaper stories and a sentencing order, from Horton’s 2006 DUI crash in his county vehicle. A video appearing on the website states that Horton was forced to resign after pleading guilty.

Court records found on Alacourt and newspaper stories from that time show that Horton entered a plea deal and agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge of 3rd-degree assault instead of DUI. He was sentenced to 12 months in prison and ordered to pay court costs.

A Gadsden Times story from July 3, 2006, states that Horton, who was working on a district attorney’s office task force, was in his county-issued Chevy Tahoe, when he collided with the late-model Ford Mustang of Scarlett Bellamy. Bellamy’s car flipped and landed in a field, where she had to be cut free by firemen. She would require several surgeries on her legs over the next few years.

Then-Etowah County Sheriff James Hayes told reporters that the crash was “alcohol related,” and he said that “Jonathan suffered a lack of judgment, made a poor decision and he’ll have to face the consequences.”

Horton has apparently been questioned by voters about that incident, and a second video on the exposethesnake website shows a clip of Horton explaining that he hasn’t had an alcoholic drink in 12 years now.

That video ends, of course, with recent footage of Horton downing shots in a bar. (While it’s impossible to determine how recent the footage of Horton at the bar might be, in the video he tells the person recording it that he doesn’t want “any negative campaign stuff.”)

The website’s registration is anonymous and originates through GoDaddy.com. A link on the page directs people to a Facebook page set up to “provide the voters of Etowah County with verified facts about people seeking office in our community.”  

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Sale of Georgia Washington will go forward after settlement reached between AEA, Superintendent Mackey

Sam Mattison

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The sale of Georgia Washington Middle School to Pike Road Schools cleared an important hurdle on Wednesday after the Alabama Education Association negotiated a settlement with newly-hired state Superintendent Eric Mackey.

Ultimately, the AEA agreed to the sale of the school under certain conditions after negotiating with Mackey.

Details of the agreement include keeping an elementary school in the district open for 5 more years, and certain assurances that Georgia Washington Middle School’s legacy will remain intact.

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“While it is disappointing that Georgia Washington Middle School will no longer be a part of MPS, we are happy that Ms. Washington’s legacy will be secured as the campus transitions to Pike Road Schools,” Theron Stokes, AEA Associate Executive Director and counsel for the Plaintiffs, said.

Through a statement, the AEA credited the agreement to Mackey, who started in the position last week.

“In just his first seven days on the job, he has already shown a collaborative spirit and a willingness to work together for the benefit of all students,” AEA President Sherry Tucker said. “We look forward to continuing to build on the foundation Dr. Mackey has built with AEA. Students with Montgomery Public Schools and Pike Road Schools are the real winners today.”

Montgomery Public Schools is currently under a state intervention initially started under former state Superintendent Michael Sentance, and continued by interim Superintendent Ed Richardson and current Superintendent Mackey.

The State Department of Education and the AEA engaged in a legal dispute over the sale of the school, which is a historic landmark according to the AEA. The group filed a lawsuit to stop the sale of the school and dispute the state intervention into MPS, but the Alabama Supreme Court denied the motion this month.

A rehearing was requested on Thursday by the AEA, where the group called into question the Court’s right to rule in Montgomery County.

At the center of this legal dispute has been the age-old question of the separation of powers on the state level.

For Montgomery, local officials seem to worry about the state’s increasing encroachment into the logistics of their school district. Most recently, the state department of education had some concerns over the contract of Montgomery’s newest state superintendent.

For the state, MPS has repeatedly underperformed in school evaluations, and the most recent report card by the state department found that more than a dozen schools in the district were failing. Additionally, the school district is facing a budget crisis that the state hopes to alleviate.

The sale of Georgia Washington was supposed to make up for some of the budget, and settle a long-standing dispute between Pike County Schools and MPS over misappropriated funds. The funds, which total to $1.4 million, were returned to MPS in March after attempts to sell Georgia Washington to Pike County were stalled because of a lawsuit by AEA.

Under Richardson, the reorganization of MPS became apparent with the now gone superintendent announcing radical changes including the firing of 400 teachers and the outsourcing of jobs.

Mackey now heads what his predecessor Michael Sentance once called the “most comprehensive” in the state’s history. The takeover started in February of last year.

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Senate Passes Education Budget

by Brandon Moseley Read Time: 3 min
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