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Great teachers make great students

Cam Ward

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By Sen. Cam Ward
Alabama State Senate

Over the past few years, I have made it a point to visit elementary and high school classrooms across Senate District 14. The passion of the teachers I meet never fails to inspire me. For many teachers, education is both a career and a calling to shape the lives of young people. Most educators work long hours, taking papers and tests home with them to grade after dinner with their own family.

The impact that a great teacher has on a young person’s life is fairly dramatic. According to research by the economists Raj Chetty and John N. Friedman of Harvard and Jonah E. Rockoff of Columbia, a student who has a strong fourth-grade teacher is 1.25 percent more likely to go to college than if she has a weak fourth-grade teacher. Students with a strong fourth-grade teacher will earn, on average, $25,000 more over their lifetime than students with poor teachers. (The authors found similar effects for teachers across all elementary and middle school grades.) Taken in the aggregate, the impact an excellent teacher has on an entire classroom is quite profound. The trajectories of dozens of young people can be altered for the better by a passionate, engaged and knowledgeable educator.

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As a legislator, one of my top priorities has been supporting great teachers. For each of the past seven years, I have co-sponsored proposals to give public school teachers a pay raise, and fortunately, in 2016 the Legislature was able to come to an agreement on a four percent raise for most educators. I am continuing to work hard to find a fiscally sustainable pathway for giving another pay raise to teachers in the 2018 Legislative Session that starts in January, and if the state budget’s condition allows it, I will also advocate to increase the financial resources available to special education teachers.

The academic research verifies what each parent knows intuitively: a great teacher can have a huge impact on the life of a child. So let us continue to celebrate the profession of teaching and find innovative ways to reward the great teachers in our classrooms; and may many of our brightest students aspire to become teachers themselves – for what other profession molds the dreams and aspirations of so many?

Republican Senator Cam Ward represents District 14 in the Alabama State Senate, which includes all or parts of Shelby, Bibb, Chilton, Hale and Jefferson counties. He serves as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Follow him on Twitter: @SenCamWard

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Opinion | Preserving our history to protect our future

Gerald Allen

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Doing the right thing isn’t always politically expedient, but a strong leader does what’s necessary regardless of her critics. Governor Kay Ivey exemplifies this kind of no-nonsense leadership.

Last year, our state faced a difficult decision: should we listen to the politically-correct, out-of-state pundits or do what’s best for the future of Alabama?

All across Alabama, we have monuments and statues that tell our storied past. Many of these moments have affected our entire nation and shaped us to be who we are today. History doesn’t just tell us where we’ve been, it often provides signals and warnings for how to avoid repeating past errors. As George Santayana once wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

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Nearly one year ago, I sponsored the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act, a law that protects historic monuments and memorials in Alabama from thoughtless destruction.

More specifically, the Memorial Preservation Act prohibits the destruction or alteration of public monuments older than forty years, and established a standing committee to hear waiver requests from cities and counties, while historic artifacts under the control of museums, archives, libraries, and universities were specifically exempted from the prohibition against removal or alteration.

This law is the result of countless discussions with other legislators, historians, and interested citizens, and the intent is to preserve memorials to all of Alabama’s history – including the Civil War, the World Wars, and the Civil Rights movement – for generations to come.

We’ve seen a wave of political correctness sweep the nation, and too often, these attempts have resulted in re-writing of the American story. This politically-correct movement to strike whole periods of the past from our collective memory is divisive and unnecessary. In order to understand our complete history and where we are today, we have to tell it as it happened.

As a lawmaker, I believe it is incumbent upon us to preserve our state’s history, and I am grateful that Governor Ivey, in the face of criticism, stood up for the thoughtful preservation of Alabama’s history – the good and the bad. As father and grandfather, I am especially grateful she understood the importance of our children and grandchildren learning from the past, so they can create a better future.

Sen. Gerald Allen serves Senate District 21 which includes: Lamar County, Pickens County,and Tuscaloosa County.

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Opinion | The push for a balanced budget

Bradley Byrne

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When the 115th Congress kicked off last January, I immediately introduced a bill that I believe is fundamental to the future of our country: a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The premise of a Balanced Budget Amendment is pretty straightforward. The federal government should not be allowed to spend more than we take in, except in extraordinary circumstances like a time of war.

This isn’t some sort of far flung idea. When I served in the Alabama State Legislature, we were required to pass a balanced budget each year. It was not always easy, but it was the law. The vast majority of states have the same requirement.

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Balancing a budget is also a common occurrence for families in Alabama and across the United States. Every month, people sit around their kitchen table to figure out how to make ends meet and live within their means. Small businesses must do the same.

The federal government should have to play by the same rules.

To truly enact a Balanced Budget Amendment, we would need to add an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. As a reminder, in order to amend the Constitution, the Balanced Budget Amendment must pass both the House and the Senate by a two-thirds majority and then be ratified by three-fourths of the states, which is 38 out of the 50 states. The only other way to amend the Constitution would be through a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the states.

Recently, the House voted on House Joint Resolution 2, proposing a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution. Despite receiving the support of a majority of us in the House, the bill did not receive the two-thirds majority necessary under the Constitution.

I was deeply disappointed that most Democrats in the House opposed the Balanced Budget Amendment. Despite talking a lot about our debt, they rejected one of the best opportunities to actually restore fiscal sanity in Washington.

Throughout the course of the debate, two important topics were raised, and I wanted to briefly address each of them.

First, despite what my colleagues on the other side of the aisle believe, the answer to our debt issues is not to tax the American people more. We do not have a tax problem; we have a spending problem.

To be clear, the recently passed tax cuts are not to blame for our nation’s debt issues. As the Heritage Foundation recently pointed out, “tax revenue is expected to fall by only 0.7 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) this year and spending is expected to climb by 3 percent of GDP.” Again, we have a spending problem, not a taxing problem.

Second, the most serious drivers of the national debt are on autopilot. For example, if you eliminated every penny Congress appropriated for defense spending next year, the federal government would still be projected to operate in a deficit.   So-called mandatory spending programs must be reined in, and a balanced budget amendment would finally require Congress to tackle those programs head on.

Now, I know passing a balanced budget would be hard, but I did not run for Congress because I thought the job would be easy. We were elected by our neighbors to make difficult choices and decisions.

So, while our recent effort to pass a Balanced Budget Amendment came up short, I will not let it stop me from continuing to push for a balanced budget that requires the federal government to live within our means, just like the American people.

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Opinion | Vengeful Alabama to kill 83-year-old man

Stephen Cooper

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Barring intervention by courts or its governor, Alabama will kill an 83-year-old man on April 19; long-incarcerated for the 1989 mail-bomb killings of United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit Judge Robert S. Vance and civil rights attorney Robert E. Robinson, Walter Moody, Jr.’s wizened, withered body, will, three decades after his crimes, be strapped to a gurney, pricked with a sharp needle (possibly many, many times), and pumped full of chemicals until he is dead.

Why? Other than the reactionary, regressive idea of “retribution” – whose flawed moral underpinning is interchangeable with bloodthirsty, wild, wild West revenge – how will justice be served? And, for whom?

The premeditated, state-sponsored senicide of the most senior of senior citizens on Alabama’s death row won’t make anyone – not anyone in Alabama, and not anyone anywhere in the United States or the world – safer. As I have written elsewhere, the myth that capital punishment – in this instance for an old man at the tail-end of a tortured existence in “hell-on-earth” Holman prison – provides deterrence, is an outmoded shibboleth. No mentally disturbed person intent on a bombing rampage will be dissuaded by Alabama prosecutors’ tri-decade pursuit of Moody’s execution. (As the Tuscaloosa News editorialized in a piece titled “Attempts to carry out the death penalty have gone from bad to worse”: “Thirty years is a long time to wait to die, but the State is persistent. Alabama has spent a lot of money and a lot of energy to usher out these old and infirm inmates before nature takes its course.”)

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Additionally, and arguably most important, Alabama’s unrelenting desire to exact violent vengeance for the deaths of Judge Vance and Attorney Robinson is improper because of: (1) who these champions of justice were, their respective legacies of honor, and the principles of equality their lifework embodied; and (2), because it is undesired by the people whose opinion should matter the most – the family members of the victims – who have spoken publicly about this.

A crusader for civil rights in the segregated South, Robert Robinson served on the executive board and as general counsel of the NAACP, and so it seems certain he would not favor the death penalty – for Moody, or for anybody – the practice having been hewn from the hell of slavery, subjugation and the suffering of black people. Interviewed for a 2016 essay called “Celebrating Black History: Remembering Robbie Robinson,” Robinson’s widow, Ann, “says she may never know the reason why her husband lost his life to such a heinous crime but she harbors no ill feelings towards Moody. Instead, she’s focused on keeping [her husband’s] memory alive.”

By the same token, Judge Vance’s wife Helen, who was seriously injured as a result of the bombing that killed her husband, told reporters after Moody’s 1991 conviction in federal court that, “she wouldn’t press for a state death-penalty case” (Helen Vance died in 2010). And recently, in March, Robert Vance, Jr., Judge Vance’s son and a circuit judge in Alabama, told a news reporter: “We achieved peace when [Moody] was convicted,” later saying “he’s not sure what can be gained from the execution of his father’s killer.” This ambivalence and distaste for executing an impotent, likely soon-to-die-anyway old man, would undoubtedly have been shared by his father. For as now-deceased former acclaimed death penalty attorney and law professor Michael Mello wrote about Judge Vance, for whom he clerked, in his book “Dead Wrong: A Death Row Lawyer Speaks Out Against Capital Punishment”: “Judge Vance personally did not believe in capital punishment; if he were a legislator he would vote against it; if he were an executive he would commute death sentences; and if he were a Supreme Court Justice, he might well hold it unconstitutional. Robert Vance’s personal opposition to capital punishment was genuine and heartfelt . . . . He did not believe that the death penalty was a proper form of punishment[.]”

Which brings us full-circle to the questions I posed earlier: Why is Alabama intent on killing an octogenarian who can no longer hurt anyone? And, who on God’s good earth will benefit from such ghastliness?

For as renowned Christian author, ethicist, and theologian Lewis Smedes once powerfully observed: “The problem with revenge is that it never evens the score. It ties both the injured and the injurer to an escalator of pain. Both are stuck on the escalator as long as parity is demanded, and the escalator never stops.” This is why Sir Francis Bacon once counseled that “[i]n taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior.”

If Alabama does not spare Mr. Moody, this time-tested wisdom, together with whatever honor and capacity for human dignity that exists within the office of Alabama’s governor, its Department of Corrections, and its Office of the Attorney General, will be lost.                  

Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California. Follow him on Twitter @SteveCooperEsq

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Great teachers make great students

by Cam Ward Read Time: 2 min
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