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Mary Scott Hunter warns that the American Dream is in crisis in Alabama

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

On Tuesday, April 18, 2017, Alabama School Board member Mary Scott Hunter (R) addressed the Alabama Federation of Young Republican who were at the State House for their Annual Legislative Day.

Mary Scott Hunter warned that for too many in Alabama “the American Dream is in Crisis.”

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Hunter cited a number of statistics showing that home ownership, children in poverty, joblessness, etc. were worsening across the State and for many Alabamians achieving the American dream is becoming much more difficult.

Many of the Young Republicans agreed with Hunter’s supposition that they are giving up some career success by choosing to stay here rather than taking their talents to other states.

Hunter said that Massachusetts is a model for Alabama. Massachusetts is in the top four for education; but it only spends 25 to 30 percent more per student than Alabama; but not as much as Rhode Island and Vermont.

There is a new Superintendent. Michael Sentance was hired after Tommy Bice left.

Kay Ivey came to the board meeting with prepared notes. That shows some effort. Kay Ivey gave a very nice presentation. Governors have a vote on the Board.

Hunter was optimistic about the ESSA law and said that we have a strategic plan in place: Plan 2020 which is a collection of strategic goals

Hunter said that there was a graduation rate scandal where the schools had been claiming an over 89 percent graduation rate. The actual rate is 85 percent. The problem was that diplomas were being awarded to students with special needs and to students with credit recovery

“We have a requirement to do school grading. We don’t like to use the term ‘failing schools.’ ”

Hunter asked: “How can we have unemployment and unfilled jobs especially in the skilled trades?”

Hunter said the Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was a controversial appointment. “I personally think she did very poorly in her congressional hearings where she gave poor answers; but by all accounts the staff at her department like her.”

On why Alabama schools historically underperform, Hunter said that our teachers are mostly Alabamians and they were educated in a system that is largely deficient. Are our teachers well prepared to teach their subject matter especially in STEM subjects?

Hunter said that the workforce makes it difficult to attract companies here. We have two flag ship universities: Alabama and Auburn that are in the top 100, but not in the top 50. That is a problem. We have no flag ship education department in any of our colleges and that is a problem for us.

“Hunter said, Our older teachers don’t work well in groups. But this is how young people are working today, in a more collaborative style. They don’t teach with all the students spread out in desks, students sit in four squares”

Hunter, speaking about the importance of professional development and generational differences in work styles, was self deprecating. “I’m 44 years old. My generation doesn’t work as as well in groups as millennials do today.”

Hunter said, “We are getting our lunch eaten by Mississippi for national board development.” Mississippi offers incentives to get those national board certified teachers to go to low performing schools.”

Hunter said that she visited Selma’s Hudson Middle School. “They needed a math teacher and the principal said that she got no applications. Not bad applications, but no applications. They can’t hire a single math teacher so are moving their math teacher around from school to school.”

Hunter said that more money for education would help.

The Alabama Political Reporter asked: Is it time to admit that the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards are not working?”

Hunter said, “how so?”

APR said recent testing showed that we have the dumbest bunch of fourth graders in the entire country and even Governor Bentley admitted that: “Our schools suck.”

Hunter said, “Math. That was math.”

APR said that the new math teaching methods clearly are not working.

Hunter said, “what standards would you use.”

APR said why not go back to the old standards we were 26th in the country now we are worst in the nation. Go back to memorization on math. It is the oldest method and it is proven. I know 12 times 12 is 144, 11 times 11 is 121. I don’t calculate that in my head it was memorized 40 years ago.

Hunter said, “this is a really hard subject for me. The old standards were like a very badly built house. Teachers had no creativity. I could not make head nor tails of the old standards. I wanted to have better standards. Most of the academic people in the State recommended the new standards. When there was all this controversy over the standards I could have made a political decision. Hunter suggested that some of our teachers have not done a good job of teaching the new methods.”

Hunter said, “No, I don’t think we should jettison the standards and go back to the olds standards which weren’t serving us well. Hunter said We have changed them several times already and are presently rewriting the science standards. “But I would not want us to go back to that stack of phone backs that I could not understand.”

Hunter said that if you are born in the bottom in Alabama you tend to stay in the bottom. After the 2020 census we will lose a congressional seat. We can’t have this lack of upward mobility

Hunter said that the era of Dr. Spock is over and today we have helicopter parents with a very involved parenting style and the schools have to be able to work with that.

Hunter suggested that better education would even decrease terrorism: Most of ISIS’s fighters in Syria have fifth grade educations.

The Alabama Federation of Young Republicans are highly influential in GOP politics. Their group even has a voting seat on the Alabama Republican Steering Committee.

 

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House passes General Fund Budget

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

The Alabama House of Representatives passed the state General Fund Budget on Tuesday.

The General Fund Budget for the 2019 fiscal year is Senate Bill 178. It is sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose. State Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, carried the budget on the House floor. Clouse chairs the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee.

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Clouse said, “Last year we monetized the BP settlement money and held over $97 million to this year.”

Clouse said that the state is still trying to come up with a solution to the federal lawsuit over the state prisons. The Governor’s Office has made some progress after she took over from Gov. Robert Bentley. The supplemental we just passed added $30 million to prisons.

The budget adds $50 million to the Department of Corrections.

Clouse said that the budget increased the money for prisons by $55,680,000 and includes $4.8 million to buy the privately-owned prison facility in Perry County.

Clouse said that the budget raises funding for the judicial system and raises the appropriation for the Forensic Sciences to $11.7 million.

The House passed a committee substitute so the Senate is either going to have to concur with the changes made by the House or a conference committee will have to be appointed. Clouse told reporters that he hoped that it did not have to go to conference.

Clouse said that the budget had added $860,000 to hire more Juvenile Probation Officers. After talking to officials with the court system that was cut in half in the amendment. The amendment also includes some wording the arbiters in the court lawsuit think we need.

The state General Fund Budget, SB178, passed 98-1.

Both budgets have now passed the Alabama House of Representatives.

The 2019 fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, 2018.

In addition to the SGF, the House also passed a supplemental appropriation for the current 2018 budget year. SB175 is also sponsored by Pittman and was carried by Clouse on the floor of the House.

SB175 includes $30 million in additional 2018 money for the Department of Corrections. The Departmental Emergency Fund, the Examiners of Public Accounts, the Insurance Department and Forensic Sciences received additional money.

Clouse said, “We knew dealing with the federal lawsuit was going to be expensive. We are adding $80 million to the Department of Corrections.”

State Representative Johnny Mack Morrow, R-Red Bay, said that state Department of Forensics was cut from $14 million to $9 million. “Why are we adding money for DA and courts if we don’t have money for forensics to provide evidence? if there is any agency in law enforcement or the court system that should be funded it is Forensics.”

The supplemental 2018 appropriation passed 80 to 1.

The House also passed SB203. It was sponsored by Pittman and was carried in the House by State Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton. It raises securities and registration fees for agents and investment advisors. It increases the filing fees for certain management investment companies. Johnson said that those fees had not been adjusted since 2009.

The House also passed SB176, which is an annual appropriation for the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The bill requires that the agency have an operations plan, audited financial statement, and quarterly and end of year reports. SB176 is sponsored by Pittman and was carried on the House floor by State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chatham.

The House passed Senate Bill 185 which gives state employees a cost of living increase in the 2019 budget beginning on October 1. It was sponsored by Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville and was being carried on the House floor by state Rep. Dimitri Polizos, R-Montgomery.

Polizos said that this was the first raise for non-education state employees in nine years. It is a 3 percent raise.

SB185 passed 101-0.

Senate Bill 215 gives retired state employees a one time bonus check. SB215 is sponsored by Senator Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Guntersville.

Rich said that retired employees will get a bonus $1  for every month that they worked for the state. For employees who retired with 25 years of service that will be a $300 one time bonus. A 20-year retiree would get $240 and a 35-year employee would get $420.

SB215 passed the House 87-0.

The House passed Senate Bill 231, which is the appropriation bill increase amount to the Emergency Forest Fire and Insect and Disease Fund. SB231 is sponsored by Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette.

State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chathom, said, “Thank you for bringing this bill my district is full of trees and you never know when a forest fire will hit.

SB231 passed 87-2.

The state of Alabama is unique among the states in that most of the money is earmarked for specific purposes allowing the Legislature little year-to-year flexibility in moving funds around.

The SGF includes appropriations for the Alabama Medicaid Agency, the courts, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Alabama Department of Corrections, mental health, and most state agencies that are no education related. The Alabama Department of Transportation gets their funding mostly from state fuel taxes.

The Legislature also gives ALEA a portion of the gas taxes. K-12 education, the two year college system, and all the universities get their state support from the education trust fund (ETF) budget. There are also billions of dollars in revenue that are earmarked for a variety of purposes that does not show up in the SGF or ETF budgets.

Examples of that include the Public Service Commission, which collects utility taxes from the industries that it regulates. The PSC is supported entirely by its own revenue streams and contributes $13 million to the SGF. The Secretary of State’s Office is entirely funded by its corporate filing and other fees and gets no SGF appropriation.

Clouse warned reporters that part of the reason this budget had so much money was due to the BP oil spill settlement that provided money for the 2018 budget and $97 million for the 2019 budget. Clouse said they elected to make a $13 million repayment to the Alabama Trust fund that was not due until 2020 but that is all that was held over for 2020.

Clouse predicted that the Legislature will have to make some hard decisions about revenue in next year’s session.

 

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Day Care bill delayed for second time on Senate floor, may be back Thursday

Sam Mattison

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By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

The day care bill, which would license certain day care centers in Alabama, was once again delayed on the state Senate floor after one lawmaker requested more information.

Its brief appearance Tuesday ended with state Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, saying a compromise had not yet been worked out with the bill’s detractors.

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Alabama’s Senate has been hesitant to act on the legislation because of complaints of state Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, who has been an opponent of the bill since its introduction last year. The bill’s delay on Tuesday marks the second time its been taken off the Senate’s agenda.

The bill has had a rocky time in this year’s session, but the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said she is still confident about its passage out of the Legislature.

Warren, D-Tuskegee, filed the bill this session with the support of influential lawmakers including Gov. Kay Ivey, who told reporters last year that she though all day cares should be licensed.

Mainly sparked by the death of 5-year-old boy in the care of a unlicensed day care worker, the bill had great momentum coming into this year’ session.

Despite the growing support from lawmakers, Religious groups had concerns that the bill would increase state-sponsored reach into religious day cares in churches and non-profit groups.

Spearheading the dissenters was Alabama Citizens Action Program, a conservative religious-based PAC.

Warren, proponents, and ALCAP announced a compromise to the bill while it was still in the Alabama House.

Announced by ALCAP originally, the new bill was a weaker version in that it did not require that all day cares in the state be regulated. Instead, religious-based day cares would only need to be registered if they received federal funds. At a Senate committee meeting in February, Warren said a similar requirement was about to come from federal law in Congress.

The bill moved through the House in a overwhelming vote in favor of the proposal and passed unanimously out of a Senate committee a few weeks ago.

Warren, speaking to reporters after its passage from the House, said she was unsure if the bill would encounter resistance in the upper chamber.

It was the Senate that killed the daycare bill last year amid a cramped last day where senators took the bill off the floor. The bill may face similar complications this year, as lawmakers seem to be preparing to adjourn within a few weeks.

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Fantasy sports bill fails on Senate floor

Sam Mattison

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By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

Would-be Fantasy Sports players in Alabama will have to wait to legally play in the state following a Senate vote on Tuesday.

The Alabama Senate decisively killed a bill to exempt fantasy sports from the state’s prohibition on gambling.

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Not even entertaining a debate on the Senate floor, the proposal was killed during a vote for the Budget Isolation Resolution, which is usually a formality vote preluding a debate.

Fantasy sports are contests where participants select players from real teams to compete on fantasy teams using the real-world players’ stats.

Since 2016, the practice has been illegal in Alabama following a legal decision by the Attorney General’s Office that categorized it as gambling.

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, predicted the bill’s failure during a committee meeting two weeks ago, where the bill passed unanimously.

Sen. Paul Sanford speaks to reporters after a Senate Committee meeting on Feb. 28, 2018. (Samuel Mattison/APR)

Speaking to reporter’s after the committee meeting, Sanford said the decision to file the bill was mainly a philosophical belief that the practice shouldn’t be illegal.

Sanford, a fantasy sports player before its ban, said that fantasy sports are a way to bring people closer together and not a means to win money. The Huntsville senator is not seeking re-election.

The bill’s failure in the Senate follows its trajectory last year too. A similar version of the bill, also sponsored by Sanford, failed in the Senate during the final days of the 2017 Legislative Session.

Since Sanford is retiring, it is unclear if the bill will even come back next session, or if it will even have a Senate sponsor.

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Mary Scott Hunter warns that the American Dream is in crisis in Alabama

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