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Replacing ACT Aspire with the actual ACT is as dumb as it gets

Craig Ford



By Rep. Craig Ford

Last week, our State Superintendent of Education announced a decision that is so spectacularly stupid you almost have to assume the intention is to hurt our schools.

That decision is to replace the ACT preparation exam, called the ACT Aspire, with the actual ACT as a measure of school accountability.

Think about that for a second. Replacing the preparation exam with the actual exam is like sending a minor league baseball player who has a low batting average up to the major league and expecting him to start knocking balls out of the park.


When half of all kids from Alabama never attend college, and half of those who do leave before graduating with a four-year degree, do we really expect the majority of them to score highly on the ACT?

In fact, the whole point of college is that the standards are supposed to be above average. If everybody had a four-year degree, then that college degree wouldn’t be any more valuable than a high school diploma is today. The reason a degree often means more money is because not everyone has the degree and that level of training.

Yes, government should make sure that no child misses the chance to go to college because they can’t afford it or weren’t given the resources they needed while in K-12 to be successful. That’s why I have pushed every year for a lottery to fund college scholarships for at least the first two years of school.

But expecting every child to be college ready is unrealistic! This plan of using the ACT to measure whether we are meeting Federal accountability requirements is only setting our schools up for failure because the college standards are supposed to be above average.

It is not the job of the government and the public schools to make sure that every child goes on to get a four-year degree. What is the government’s and the schools’ job is to make sure that every child is prepared for life after high school. For some kids, that is a college degree. For others, it’s a trade certification or lower level degree.

Somebody has to be a plumber. Somebody has to be an electrician. Somebody has to work in the Gadsden Goodyear plant.

Even Registered Nurses don’t have to have a four-year degree (many nurses have an Associate’s Degree from one of Alabama’s Community Colleges). Most jobs, in fact, don’t require a four-year college degree. And the problem we have in this State is not that we don’t have enough people with college degrees to do the jobs that require a degree. Our problem is that we have too many people who don’t have that middle level of education and experience that is required to do the jobs that are available – jobs that pay well (sometimes even better than some of the jobs that require a college degree) but require specialized experience and training, such as construction, welding or machine automation.

This unrealistic goal of having every child ready to earn a four-year degree is leaving the vast majority of our kids without the education and experience that employers are actually looking for.

When the recession happened, employers did what they always do during recessions: they replaced human workers with computers and machines where they could, and started requiring higher levels of qualifications from the workers they did hire. As the recovery has continued, employers have kept these higher standards and haven’t gone back to hiring less qualified workers.

The result is that the middle class is shrinking, and it will continue to shrink until we start providing our children and those already in the workforce with the skills and education they actually need to get one of the thousands of good-paying jobs that are available in Alabama but aren’t currently filled because employers can’t find workers who can do the job.

This decision to use the ACT exam as a measure of Federal accountability standards is about as foolish as it gets. I can tell you right now that the majority of kids will not meet the standard because that’s the whole point of the exam!

The problem isn’t the test, educators or students. The problem is the philosophy coming out of Washington and Montgomery. It’s a philosophy that can’t see the forest for the trees, and is being pushed by bureaucrats (some of whom haven’t spent a single day in the classroom as a teacher) instead of actual educators and employers.

Rep. Craig Ford represents Gadsden and Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives. He served as the House Minority Leader from 2010-2016.

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | When liberals help the poor they do more harm than good

Scott Beason



Stock Photo

On my Scott Beason Radio program this past Monday, a regular contributor mentioned that a bill to eliminate payday lending had passed the Alabama Senate, and I was surprised. Having dealt with the issue back when I was in office, I think payday lending gets a bum rap out in the mainstream media. These short term loans are an important part of the financial lending community and are often the only access to credit that some people have. I also wondered what special interest group is driving an agenda for which the general public nor the so called “poor” is clamoring. The answer is the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Republican supermajorities do not – or used to not – kowtow to the SPLC. If there is a more liberal group in the United States, this conservative is not aware of it. Maybe the legislators have bought into the SPLC propaganda that they are protecting the “poor”. … By eliminating the only means for credit the “poor” have? By eliminating the jobs of the 5,000 people in the state who work in the industry? That doesn’t make sense.

“Helping the poor” is a noble cause, in the generic sense of the words, but how does eliminating payday loans actually help the “poor”? How does making it more difficult for someone with limited means and bad credit to get the money they need to make it to the next paycheck help the “poor”? This question is the one that made it difficult for me to legislatively pursue the total destruction of the payday lending industry.

If a “poor” person needs $100 dollars on Wednesday to make it to Friday, where can he get it? The answer is nowhere, if there is no such thing as short term lending. These loans are simply too risky and too small for banks or credit unions to handle. If payday loans were workable at a lower interest rate, then someone would be doing it right now. You don’t have to change the law to do that. Just let capitalism work. I suggest that those who believe they can run a better business model for short term lending get out in the market and do so. Show us how to “help the poor” the “right” way.

What happened to free market Republicans in the Alabama legislature? There used to be enough to make up an entire caucus. Does the term, free market, mean nothing when the Southern Poverty Law Center says jump? In Washington DC Barack Obama tried to crush the payday loan industry, and now Republicans gleefully further Obama’s agenda in Alabama. Regulating a whole sector of the financial services industry out of existence is not the free market.


Another person on the radio show described working at his job and loaning his buddies $20 on Wednesday to help them make it to Friday. On payday they gave him back $25. He called it 20 for 25, and his friends appreciated being able to buy gas and food for those couple of days. 20 for 25 seems reasonable and harmless, but the cost to the borrower is more than is charged in Alabama’s payday lending industry. … I know. … It’s weird. … 20 for 25 did not seem “predatory” at all.

The “working poor” will continue to need small cash loans from time to time. That will not change, but we cannot help people by not allowing them to help themselves. All of our freedoms come with the risk of excess and of getting into trouble. Payday lending is simply another market based, regulated, and lawful financial service that replaced the mob supported loan sharks of days gone by. My friend, Senator Tom Whatley, who was apparently one of the few willing to talk about the free market on the Senate floor made a great point: the people who cannot get short term loans in Alabama will now get them online, or from people who want more than an interest rate. They want an arm or a leg. … Well said Mr. Whatley.

To help the “poor”, the legislature should stop helping. Prior legislation has straightened up the industry, and lawmakers should leave well enough alone. Let the payday lending legislation die a quiet death. It is not needed, and it hurts regular folks who are thankful that they have the option of a short term loan when they need one to make ends meet.

Scott Beason a former State Senator is the host of The Scott Beason Show on WYDE Superstation 101 in Birmingham.


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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Licensing away economic prosperity

Allen Mendenhall



By Allen Mendenhall
Executive Director of the Blackstone & Burke Center for Law & Liberty

Do you want to alleviate poverty in Alabama? Do you want to curb the power of special interest groups over government agencies? Do you want more affordable goods and services in basic industries?  Do you want to help disadvantaged groups find good jobs and become productive citizens? Do you want to reduce the population of our overcrowded prisons?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you should read a new report published by the Alabama Policy Institute titled “The Costs of Occupational Licensing in Alabama.” Coauthored by Daniel Smith (Troy University), Courtney Michaluk (Troy University), David Hall (Troy University), and Alex Kanode (George Mason University), the report details the effects of occupational licensure on our state.

What is occupational licensure? In short, it’s governmental regulation requiring people to obtain a license before entering into certain trades or fields. Sounds harmless, right? Aren’t these regulations in place to protect consumers from exploitation and inexpert practices? Such reasoning led to the rise in occupational licensure, which today extends to several zones of economic activity.


However well-meaning, occupational licensure has had unintended consequences on the people it’s designed to protect. Instead of helping average consumers, it lines the pockets of industries that have lobbied to regulate away entrepreneurial forces that drive down costs.

If you’re poor and trying to find low-skilled work as a barber, manicurist, eyebrow threader, hair stylist, school bus driver, or shampoo assistant, you must obtain a license first. This license may be prohibitively expensive because of renewal fees, coursework, continuing education, and so forth.

“Alabama licenses a total of 151 occupations,” according to the report, “covering over 432,000 Alabama workers, which represents over 21 percent of the labor force.” Think about that: more than two of every 10 people working in Alabama need a license to do what they do for a living. Licensing boards governing admission standards and prerequisites can mandate expensive training and dues that don’t affect the quality of industry services.

Economists refer to occupational licensure as a barrier to entry. Barriers to entry ensure that those already within a profession or trade can raise prices to artificially high levels, in effect squeezing out competition by using the mechanisms of government to control the market.

Inflated prices harm low-income families who cannot afford to buy what they could have bought if the market had set prices based on natural supply and demand. Spouses of military service members often suffer from occupational licensure because, when they move from state to state, they must jump through hoops to enter the licensed profession in which they practiced in other jurisdictions.

Occupational licensure is, in short, a net burden on the economy, escalating prices, limiting consumer choice, and restricting economic mobility.  The API report estimates that the overall costs of occupational licensure in Alabama exceed $122 million. That’s a lot of money. What can be done to keep some of it in the hands of the ordinary people who need it most?

The report proposes five reforms for Alabama policymakers:

  1. “[T]hey can reform current procedures for extending occupational licensing to new occupations and mandate thorough review processes to ensure that licensing is not extended to new occupations without a demonstrable and severe threat to consumer safety that cannot be overcome with the market mechanisms, such as consumer or expert reviews, reputation, guarantees, or private certification, or the already existing government laws, such as those dealing with liability, fraud, misrepresentation, and false advertising.”
  2. “[T]hey can establish procedures to systematically review all licensure requirements for currently licensed occupations to ensure that they do not require unnecessary or excessive requirements or costs for licensure.
  3. “[T]hey can systematically review all currently licensed occupations to determine, individually, whether a demonstrable severe threat to consumer safety exists. If not, they can remove occupation licensing entirely for those occupations.”
  4. “[They] can explore licensure reforms that specifically target ex-offenders” to reduce the prison population and criminal recidivism.
  5. “[They] can … explore occupational licensing reform with military members and their families in mind.”

A short article cannot capture the nuance and particulars of the entire report; readers should view the report for themselves to make up their own minds.

During this time of partisan divide and political rancor, people of good faith on both the left and the right can agree that something needs to be done about occupational licensure. The problem cannot continue to grow. It presents a unique opportunity for Republican and Democratic lawmakers to come together to ease economic burdens on the people of Alabama. Let’s hope they seize it.

Allen Mendenhall is associate dean at Faulkner University Thomas Goode Jones School of Law and executive director of the Blackstone & Burke Center for Law & Liberty. Visit his website at

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Quail Forever, Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association come together with one conservation goal

Howard K. Vincent



I have been working with Pheasants Forever, Inc., & Quail Forever for more than three decades with one goal in mind: the conservation and restoration of pheasants, quail and other wildlife through habitat improvements, public awareness, education and land management policies and programs.

Our Minnesota-based organization was formed in 1982 and now has locally based volunteer chapters in 42 states, including our newest chapter formed during an eventful visit the last week of February to the Alabama Black Belt. The Black Belt chapter will be the sixth Quail Forever group in the state.

We were fortunate to be invited to visit the Black Belt for the first time by the Alabama Black Belt Adventures Association (ALBBAA), an organization that holds the same values as Quail Forever. The ALBBAA is dedicated to wildlife habitat conservation and economic development of the beautiful rural areas in the 23 counties that make up the Black Belt. The marketing organization, founded in 2009, relies on the plentiful opportunities for hunting, fishing, camping and many other outdoors attractions to spur tourism. Thanks to the major role Raycom Media plays in supporting this effort by providing advertising on its many television stations across the country, visitors are increasingly finding their outdoor adventures in the Black Belt – and quail hunting is a growing pursuit.

We came to the Black Belt with modest goals, hoping to capture some fresh photography, videography and content for our Quail Forever Journal, Quail Forever website and social media platforms. We also brought along friends from Realtree, Browning firearms and apparel, The Flush television program on Outdoor Channel, LandLeader TV on RFD, Covey Rise magazine and Shooting Sportsman magazine. These partners were also on the trip to learn about southern Alabama quail culture and to generate content for their own media entities. Our goals were certainly surpassed.


In Alabama, we learned that Southern hospitality is no cliché – it’s the absolute truth. We enjoyed a sunset dinner at Shenandoah Plantation in Union Springs hosted by Tom and Sue Ellen Lanier. We savored breakfast at Rex and Jacque Clark’s High Log Creek Farm and Hunting Preserve near Hurtsboro. At High Log Creek, we saddled up horses and wagons to explore the habitat in search of quail behind the preserve’s fine array of pointing dogs. Acclaimed chef and Food Network Iron Chef winner David Bancroft of Auburn’s Acre restaurant prepared a dinnertime offering of Alabama seafood and wild game at Rex Pritchett’s Great Southern Outdoors Plantation back in Union Springs. And speaking of quality Southern food, Chris Hastings of Birmingham’s Hot and Hot Fish Club prepared a lunch featuring quail on Thursday at host Thomas Harris’ Gusto plantation in Lowndes County that showed why he is a nationally renowned chef. We also had the pleasure of enjoying a magnificent final quail hunt at Gusto that allowed participants to not only enjoy the work of gorgeous pointers that weaved through the loblolly and longleaf pines, but also to see the kind of habitat that should be the goal of all quail lovers. Internationally known trainer Mike Stewart of Wildrose Kennels of Oxford, Miss., wrapped up the day by sharing some of his expertise with four of his British Labradors working with unbelievable precision.

Other sponsors who helped make our incredible visit happen were the Alabama Power Company, Yeti, Jon Kohler & Associates, National Land Realty, Tutt Land & Company and John Hall and Company.

Perhaps the highlight of our Alabama adventure occurred at a gathering sponsored by Caliber at the Alabama Wildlife Federation’s NaturePlex in Millbrook where Dr. Bill Palmer of Tall Timbers Research Station in Tallahassee, Fla., addressed a crowd of 100, excited to hear his quail expertise. I was energized by the group’s enthusiasm for quail and quail habitat. It was at that event that the Black Belt Quail Forever chapter was announced.

Unique among conservation organizations, Quail Forever chapters retain 100 percent decision-making control over the funds they raise locally. The group represents 140,000 bird-hunting conservationists who have been responsible for 15 million acres of habitat accomplishments while also earning Charity Navigator’s top rating for six consecutive years. Lovers of quail in the entire state have already been partners with ALBBAA through the Alabama Quail Trail, which can only be enhanced by more Quail Forever chapters.

The newly created Quail Forever chapter will work with the local community and landowners to improve the area’s habitat for quail. Ultimately, these habitat efforts will benefit all wildlife in the Black Belt, water quality, and the area’s recreational-based economy. We were proud to witness the many ways ALBBAA is already promoting quail hunting adventures in the region through media channels of Quail Forever, the country’s largest collection of bird-hunting conservationists. This an exciting new direction for Alabama, its Black Belt region and its people.

Howard K. Vincent is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Pheasants Forever, Inc., & Quail Forever

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Replacing ACT Aspire with the actual ACT is as dumb as it gets

by Craig Ford Read Time: 4 min