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All I want for Christmas is… for every child to have a good education

Craig Ford

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By Rep. Craig Ford

When my kids were growing up, I don’t know who was more excited on Christmas morning: the kids opening their presents or me and Gwen watching them!

Ever since God gave us the original and best Christmas gift, our lord and savior Jesus Christ, giving gifts has been a part of celebrating Christmas. But as I thought about what I wanted most this Christmas, it wasn’t anything material or even something for myself.

What I want most for Christmas is to finally see every child in Alabama be given a chance at the quality education they deserve. And believe it or not, that is a gift that we could actually make happen.

Despite all the divisiveness in politics, most voters and elected officials actually agree on the problems and even agree on many of the solutions. For example, we all agree that more resources need to be given to the state’s outstanding pre-K program, as well as reading, computer and technology programs.

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And people on both sides of the aisle also agree that we need to invest more in teaching and classroom resources.

Last week, the news broke that Alabama’s cuts to K-12 education are among the slowest in the nation to catch back up to the pre-recession levels of 2008 (specifically, we are the third worst in the country, with only Arizona and Florida lagging behind us).

Most of the cuts to education have come from the classroom. There are nearly 5,500 fewer employees in our public schools today than there were in 2008. And of those, 3,000 of them are teachers – that’s a 6 percent drop!

Fewer teachers means larger class sizes, and that means less one-on-one time between students and their teachers. Larger class sizes also make it harder for teachers to control the classroom, making discipline problems (which then become distractions for the other students) more common and more difficult for teachers to prevent.

The lack of funding has also impacted our ability to provide educational programs for students who are less interested in college and more interested in getting a professional certificate or Associate’s Degree – and this has especially impacted our economy.

There is a serious gap of skilled workers in this state. Some of those skilled jobs are computer based, and I’m glad to see Gov. Ivey address those needs in her education plan. But there is also a need for men and women with certifications in the various trades, and those jobs can pay very well.

I would like to see every public school system have pre-apprenticeship programs, or at least some sort of introductory classes, into trades like brick masonry, building construction technology, carpentry, welding, electrical wiring, heating and air conditioning, and plumbing, among others.

While it is important for us to always be improving our college prep classes and looking for options (such as a lottery) that can help fund scholarships to two-year and four-year colleges and universities, we also have to remember that 75 percent of people in Alabama do not have a college degree, and 50 percent never attended college at all.

Any educational goals we set have to keep that reality in mind and make sure that every child who graduates from an Alabama public school is ready for the next step, whether that step is a college degree or a professional certification.

What we don’t need to do is take more money out of the already underfunded school system and use it to pay for charter schools and scholarships to private schools. We have seen in other states that charter schools have typically performed no better than traditional public schools, and they have been hotbeds for fraud, waste, abuse and corruption.

Likewise, the Alabama Accountability Act, which was sold to the public as a way to help “kids trapped in failing schools because of their zip code,” in reality has mostly gone to kids who were not in failing schools, and many who were already attending private schools (And nearly 40% of the private schools receiving scholarship students are not even accredited!).

But even if the Accountability Act worked exactly as it was originally meant to, and every kid who received one of these scholarships ended up getting a better education, it would still only be helping some of the kids who need help. The majority would still be left in the failing schools.

Though there are disagreements about charter schools and the Accountability Act, there is still plenty that everyone agrees on. If we work together on those things, then we can make my Christmas wish come true.

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

 

Rep. Craig Ford is an Independent who 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 | Alabama’s native son: E Pluribus Unum

John W. Giles

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All of us are called upon to lend our name for a job referral, political appointment or the endorsement of a candidate. Over time, my engagement for this kind of request is limited and almost extinct. I can count on two or three fingers those I would fall on the sword for because of their indisputable character, dignity, integrity, humility, sense of duty and honor. I only hope I can do justice in this article about one of Alabama’s great native sons who carried our economic, social, moral and constitutional values to Washington, D.C.

For approximately forty three years, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (Jeff Sessions) has served our state and nation in many capacities. I believe history will be very kind to this great statesman who served our state and nation flawlessly. In the public square, we may call him Senator or Attorney General, but back home, we all know him as Jeff.

Jeff’s noble track record dates back when earning the Distinguished Eagle Scout recognition. Jeff went to high school at Wilcox County High School, earned a B.A. at Huntington College and then earned a Juris Doctor from the University of Alabama Law School in 1973. He also served in the Army Reserve in the 1970’s; with the rank of captain. His public service began as Assistant U.S. Attorney in the southern district of Alabama in 1975. In 1981, President Reagan tapped Jeff to be U.S. Attorney for the same district, he was Senate confirmed and served in that capacity for twelve years until President Clinton was elected and appointed one of his own. Reagan also appointed Jeff for the Federal bench in 1986, but that nomination failed due to the mounting resistance from liberal groups like the NAACP, ACLU and People for the American Way. Their logic of resistance was incomprehensible and certainly not worth noting.

I met Jeff in 1993, over twenty five years ago, when I was running for Lt. Governor and he was running for Alabama Attorney General against incumbent Jimmy Evans. You get to know someone pretty well after spending a year on the road together at events and forums. I did not make it through the primary, but enjoyed being a surrogate speaker for Jeff and Governor James during the summer. Jeff defeated Evans and asked me and a dozen or so folks to serve on his 1994 AG Transition Team. In 1996, many of us supported the idea of Jeff running for U.S. Senate. He was elected and served until February 8, 2017, when confirmed to be U.S. Attorney General appointed by President Trump. He served until November 7, 2018.

I firmly believe Trump was wrong about Jeff, and while I support his reelection in 2020, I took issue with his treatment of Jeff in an editorial I wrote: “Trump, Sessions and the woodshed.” Jeff did call me one night this past August to catch up. In our conversation, Jeff, in his unrehearsed, professional and gentlemanly manner; never mentioned one whiff about the public attacks from Trump and mockery in the media, nor did I push him. He was a complete southern gentleman as we all know him to be. Trump does not know Jeff like we all do back home; and it hurt deep to see our warrior and friend’s unmerited public lashing and maligned by Trump. Jeff was swimming in shark infested waters at the DOJ and given time, he would have delivered.

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Trump made it as a billionaire so he does not need my advice, but the exhaustive list of turnovers of high level professionals in the Trump administration is setting a pace competitive with the Talladega 500. The West Wing door of the White House might need the same revolving door installed at Trump Towers in New York. It appears Trump does listen at times and takes all counsel under advisement before making decisions on big issues; personally I do not think he does well unless you are a 100 percent, “Yes Man.” I have been in business, industry and government over the years and a high turnover within any organization is a systemic problem that is historically derived from a hand full of reasons.

There are several in the pit stop revving up their engines to run for the coveted post of U.S. Senate against ole one-third-term Jones. By the way, Doug needs to come back home and head up the George Soros Alabama get out the vote effort, become a lawyer for the ACLU or maybe raise money for the Southern Poverty Law Center. In the name of full disclosure; when Governor Ivey called the Special Election, I enthusiastically served as chairman of Proven Conservative Super – PAC that endorsed Chief Justice Roy Moore for U.S. Senate. Jeff sacrificially gave up his seat to be the U.S. Attorney General and in my view, if he wants it back, the eager GOP contenders for this seat should unanimously step aside and roll out the red carpet path back to the Potomac River for Jeff.

Embedded in the Great Seal of the U.S. Senate is E Pluribus Unum. In 1782, congress adopted the Latin phrase, E Pluribus Unum, meaning “out of many, one” for our Great Seal. Think about the power of unity in that slogan. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, III if you choose to re-engage for your old seat back, in my view, you would consummate in the flesh, “out of many, one.”

Alabama Loves Jeff Sessions.

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | More fake news from Alabama Policy Institute

Larry Lee

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The Montgomery County board of education passed a resolution in October calling for the repeal of the Alabama Accountability Act.

I was on the board that did this, I wrote much of the resolution and I voted for it.

So, I was more than a little surprised when I read a recent article by Rachel Bryars of the Alabama Policy Institute telling me why I did what I did and how I was intent on hurting needy children.

The article was titled: School boards are choosing systems over students by calling for scholarship repeal.

This title is totally inaccurate, as is most of her following article.

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To be correct, it should have said something like: Schools boards are looking out for students in their system instead those in private schools.

Every school board member takes an oath that they will do all they can to help their system and its students. But apparently Ms. Bryars thinks oaths are to be forgotten.

API is a huge supporter of the accountability act. The one that diverts money from the state Education Trust Fund to give scholarships so students can attend private schools.

Montgomery is one of four systems to pass such a resolution. The others are Mobile, Baldwin and Tallapoosa counties.

Ms. Bryars would have you believe that these four systems have all the funding they need and are being cold-hearted by calling for money to stop being diverted.

That is laughable.

So immediately after reading her article I sent Ms. Bryars an email inviting her to come visit some public schools in Montgomery and see for herself. Told her I would be glad to arrange her visit.

Got no response.

I would take her to visit some science teachers who can’t remember the last time they got new textbooks, would take her to the present home of our magnet performing arts high school that is crammed into an abandoned elementary school because their school burned down a few months ago.

Would take her to another magnet school that is housed in a building constructed in 1910, and would take her to see Curtis Black, the principal at Goodwyn Middle School who got 300 new students back in August and has them crammed into every nook and cranny he can find.

Would also suggest she take a look at the national website, DonorsChoose, where teachers around the country show projects they need funding for. There are presently 38 projects listed by Montgomery teachers. Guess they don’t know their system has more money than it can use.

As to the contention that this system is not looking out for children, figures from the state department of education show there are now 16,202 students in this system on free or reduced lunches.

Anyone who knows anything about education know these are our most at-risk students.
Ms. Bryars must think we have zero obligation to these children. That we should say it is OK to take money that might be used to boost their education and give it to private schools instead?

And how did API determine MPS is flush with cash? Because we have had an increase in funding since 2008. However, they fail to point out that 2008 was the high-water mark for education funding in Alabama and funding today is less than it was ten years ago.

Schools in Alabama need all the help they can get. We certainly don’t need the kind of falsehoods and half-truths the Alabama Policy Institute insists on peddling.

 

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Progressives push to limit your steaks and burgers in “War on Beef”

Jim Zeigler

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I am naming the newest attempt to control your life the “War on Beef.”

To me, this newest meddling in other people’s lives is proof positive that the international environmental agenda is more about controlling people than about avoiding environmental damage.

It is almost unbelievable. Progressives have decided that cows damage the environment. Ten years ago, they complained about cow flatulence – cows passing gas, thereby damaging the ozone layer. Now, it is a broader condemnation of cows. They have decided that cows are “greenhouse-gas-intensive.” Consumption of beef must drop drastically to avoid an environmental catastrophe.

So-called progressives want you to stop enjoying your steaks and hamburgers. Instead, they want you to:

  • Eat ”bleeding burgers” with no meat. Why they name it this is as mysterious as their agenda. “Bleeding”?
  • Eat blended burgers with only about 1/3 meat.
  • Switch to pork and chicken. I suppose pigs and chickens do not have as much flatulence and other effects on the atmosphere as cows, but I wonder who personally tested for this.
  • Eat veggie burgers. How that is different from their “bleeding burgers” remains a mystery.
  • Eat bug burgers. No, this is not a joke.
  • Eat mealworm burgers.
  • Eat in vitro meat burgers from cows artificially grown in labs. (I guess cows do not pass gas indoors.) With artificial insemination of cows, they also eliminate the need for bulls, further protecting the environment.

Be on the lookout for attempts to put an environmental charge or tax on beef. Be on the lookout for international agreements similar to the Paris Accords requiring signatory nations to limit their consumption of beef.

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I have no problem with individuals who want to alter their own diets for environmental reasons – or whatever reasons. That is each individual’s choice. But the activists do not stop with their own behaviors. They want the government to enforce their dietary restrictions on us all.

When they started a War on Beef, they “went to meddling.”

God put cows on earth for a reason – for the use and enjoyment of mankind, including beef and milk. When you say this using the God word, progressives’ heads explode. So let me restate in a way that progressives can better understand: Mother Nature put cows on earth for a reason – for the use and enjoyment of mankind, including beef and milk. (With some progressives, you cannot talk in terms of God doing anything. But saying “Mother Nature” did it is apparently okay.)

Think this is a false alarm? Think that a cow tax and beef credits cannot advance like carbon taxes and credits? Read this article in which CNN (naturally) explains the War on Beef in all positive terms — as if it is reasonable, thoughtful, and is here, now. Not later.

How far will you go to reduce your beef intake?

https://www-m.cnn.com/2018/12/09/health/beef-burger-alternatives/index.html?r=https%3A%2F%2Famp.cnn.com%2Fcnn%2F2018%2F12%2F09%2Fhealth%2Fbeef-burger-alternatives%2Findex.html%3F__twitter_impression%3Dtrue

Scientists say that beef consumption must fall drastically to avert a climate catastrophe, but changing diet can…

I am not buying it. I am buying my steaks and burgers. And milk. CNN and the progressives did not talk as much about limiting milk. If you are going after cows, you are also fighting the major source of milk.
I refuse to cooperate with the War on Beef.

I have coined a slogan, maybe even a song, for the people’s battle to save beef:

When they’re runnin’ down ol’ Bessie,
They’re walkin’ on the fightin’ side of me.

 

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Now, a Medicaid program built around families and communities

Greg Reed

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The elections of November 6th are over, and now, in Washington and in Montgomery legislators again take up the task of governing. As the leader of Alabama’s twenty-seven Republican state senators, my focus is on working with other lawmakers and Governor Kay Ivey to make state government more efficient and to keep job growth strong.

Reforming the state’s Medicaid program is one of the toughest challenges we face in the coming year. Medicaid, the federally-mandated health insurance program for pregnant women, children, low-income adults, the elderly, and the disabled, is by far the largest line item in the state’s General Fund — Medicaid by itself accounts for 37% of all non-education state spending and its budget for the current year is $755 million. For context, state prisons consume 23% and the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (state troopers) uses 2.5% of non-education spending.

The aging of America’s population as the Baby Boomers retire puts enormous stress on government-run health insurance programs like Medicaid. About 10,000 Boomers retire every day, and the U.S. Census Bureau predicts that by 2035, the number of adults aged 65 and older in America will outstrip the number of children under the age of 18. In Alabama, the population of folks aged 65 and older is expected to grow by 25% between now and 2025. This coming demographic tidal wave threatens to swamp a number of government programs, including Medicaid.

For the past five years, I have worked with Medicaid Commissioner Stephanie Azar to craft a new health care model that better serves the growing number of senior citizens in Alabama who are in Medicaid’s long-term care. Thankfully, this year Alabama received approval from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in Washington to move ahead with the Integrated Care Network (ICN). This reform will offer senior citizens on Medicaid additional health care choices and is projected to save, over the long run, tens of millions of taxpayer dollars.

Here is how the ICN will work: in October of this year, the state Medicaid agency partnered with an Alabama health care provider that will now serve the medical needs of the 23,000 senior citizens who are receiving Medicaid’s long-term care services, 70% of whom are in nursing homes. By partnering with an expert health care provider based in Alabama, Medicaid can offer its long-term patients better care — and thus allow more Medicaid recipients to stay longer in the comfort of their own home.

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Medicaid recipients can still opt for a nursing home, and no benefits are changed under this new system. But by partnering with a health care provider that is an expert in managed care, Medicaid can bend the cost curve down, offer improved health care, and give more of Alabama’s senior citizens an opportunity to stay a little longer in their homes and communities.

For my wife and me, one of the greatest privileges in life is spending time with our parents — and as the years have passed, we, like so many Alabama families, have discussed the future and begun to plan for the day when our parents will need additional help. As a legislator, I think often about how the policies that I vote on will affect the lives of my friends and neighbors. The Integrated Care Network is just getting started, but I am optimistic that this reform will improve the quality of life for many families in Alabama and put Medicaid on a sounder financial footing.

Greg Reed, R-Jasper, is the Alabama Senate Majority Leader and represents Senate District 5, which is comprised of all or parts of Winston, Walker, Tuscaloosa, Jefferson, and Fayette counties.

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All I want for Christmas is… for every child to have a good education

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