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Opinion | Four reasons why parents want the Alabama State Board of Education to remain elected

Deborah Love

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By Deborah Love

Two similar proposed bills, SB24 and SB25, make the State Board of Education (SBOE) appointed by a Director of Education. There will no longer be a Superintendent of Education but a Director of Education selected by the Governor. These bills are making their way through the Alabama Senate now. Their primary objective is to remove your constitutional right to elect your State Board of Education member and to dissolve the entire SBOE. These are four reasons why parents will oppose SB24 and SB25.

1) Without an elected board parents will be eliminated from the education policy-making process for their children

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If the Alabama Legislature passes SB24 or SB25 the state Board of Education will no longer be elected by the people of Alabama from eight different districts across the state. These bills will dissolve the currently elected board and replace it with a Board of Counsel. Every member of the Board of Counsel will be selected by one individual in state government with full appointment powers – the Director of Education, who would be appointed by the governor.

Appointed boards are by their very nature not accountable to the people but to the individual responsible for placing them in a position of power. The people of Alabama will have no way to remove these new board members from office and the board member will have no incentive to listen to the parents’ concerns about their children or issues facing their district. Parents will have no structural role in the composition of the board. The new members will also serve a very narrow interest. Most American forms of government rely on having a broad cross section of inputs with democratically elected representatives, separation of powers, and top to bottom federalism. This leads to a wide variety of interests being represented. Having the school board be appointed by the state superintendent ensures that only those in the existing power structure are represented.

So, whether you want to address the library resources in your child’s local school, improve treatment of special needs students or repeal common core from Alabama schools don’t expect the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) to listen or respond because without an elected SBOE you have no one representing you.

2) State Board of Education meetings and public testimonies will become puppet shows

If SB24 or SB25 is passed the Board of Counsel will meet only once a year. That change alone will ensure that parents are not involved in the process. I have attended local school board meetings in Alabama where the school board was appointed instead of elected. The public was not allowed the opportunity to speak and they were not provided with the public documents the board was discussing. Parents who attend local school board meetings and SBOE meetings know that publicly sharing a statement is powerful. Some parents at local school board meetings in Alabama with appointed boards have been silenced. Some have even been illegally removed or intimidated at the public meetings. SBOE members listen to the testimony provided because it is usually meaningful, and because the people providing it have a direct impact on their continued existence on the board. Public hearings and public testimony are one of the most important ways that parents can voice their concerns and suggestions.

The impact of SB24 and SB25 will be that testimony from parents and concerned citizens, when allowed once a year, will be for show and not part of a balanced board-parent relationship. The board will answer to the Director of Education who will answer to the Governor who hand selected the Director.

3) Corruption will increase in state education policy and politics

The last thing the state legislature should be doing in Alabama is centralizing power. Have we not learned from Hubbard, Bentley, or other recent cases of corruption? Yet, SB24 and SB25 will centralize power and remove a constitutional right of the people of Alabama to elect a representative board of education. Alabama politics has seen increased corruption over the last several years. Parents and concerned taxpayers want to see steps taken to reduce corruption in our system. These new bills reflect the typical Alabama political response, when the going gets tough, reduce transparency and accountability. Whether you admire or oppose the actions of your current State Board of Education Member you now have a voice in the elective process. If SB24 or SB25 passes that will no longer be the case. You will have absolutely no control over who is selected for the Board of Counsel or the Director of Education. One of the great checks and balances of the education system of Alabama will be eliminated.

4) The Role of the State Board of Education is to be a deliberative body and not a rubber stamp for power

Currently the State Board of Education acts as a deliberative body working to address and discuss publicly all aspects of the ALSDE under their Constitutional authority. The State Board of Education has a diverse group of members selected by the people of Alabama in each district. There is on a regular basis discussions and disagreements on what the top priorities in education policy and the ALSDE should be. This is a good thing. Why? Because with discussion and dialog on difficult topics the best solutions are reached. A handpicked Director of Education and Board of Counsel will not address difficult topics with honesty like our parents and students need in Alabama. They will also not address local concerns. Diversity in the school board will be effectively eliminated. Our right to an elected board is precious and we should not throw it away. If we do we can be sure that the SBOE will become a rubber stamp for the status quo, reducing parents and students permanently to forgotten stakeholders in their own child’s education.

 

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Opinion | Let’s get our facts straight on the bridge

Tony Kennon and Robert Craft

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It’s always amazing how some people can misinterpret the facts. A case in point is the recent controversy over the proposed coastal bridge in Baldwin County. It’s hard for us to comprehend the opposition because we live here.

Opponents have deemed it a “bridge to nowhere,” but that couldn’t be further from the truth, because the Gulf Coast is Alabama’s largest economic engine. There isn’t a place in Alabama that contributes more tourism revenue than the cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Check our state budgets for the revenue we contribute. Check the studies performed to assess our economic impact to the state. This new bridge is headed to the future of our state.

The fact is, we are at capacity in our transportation system with the exception of a toll-paying option for a privately-owned, unregulated bridge many motorists aren’t willing to choose. Drivers will approach that toll bridge, but then cut across to Highway 59. That was fine when we had 10,000 to 15,000 visitors a day, but now those numbers are increasing at an overwhelming rate. Today, traffic is backing up through Foley toward Summerdale putting traffic at a standstill during peak seasons.

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This can have a damaging impact on state revenue because, not only does congested traffic make our visitors less likely to return, but we can’t grow our capacity when the transportation infrastructure won’t handle the load. Their “bridge to nowhere” is our bridge to the future.

Those few who oppose it say there haven’t been enough studies and that it hasn’t been proven to be in the public interest. We would invite anyone with any concern to take a ride to our beaches. They are welcome to study the parking lot called Highway 59. Approaching the cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, they will witness the traffic bottleneck caused by a bridge which is woefully over capacity.

Building a bridge wasn’t our first option. There was an attempt to purchase the existing toll bridge. But, why would we want to pay more for a bridge than we could build a new one ourselves?

And speaking of the bridge owners, let’s get down to who’s really opposing this project. Outside of a handful of local residents, the real opposition comes from the toll bridge company. After previous liquidation and bond actions, their investors want to get their money back. They have launched an ambitious, but misleading, campaign to stop the project so they can sell their bridge for hundreds of millions in taxpayer money.

These bridge owners want to attack this project as not being in the public interest. Let’s be honest with ourselves, who really thinks the bridge owners have the public interest at heart? Furthermore, when the public drives on Highway 59 or the proposed new coastal bridge, that is without a doubt a public interest.

As elected mayors, we’ve both served our communities for over a decade. And as such, we know what is in the public interest. There is no need for additional studies. We’ve listened to the travelers and our residents who must navigate our congested roads. We realize there is a desperate need for infrastructure expansion to move the growing traffic to and from the cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Doing so will improve the daily lives of our local citizens and entice our guests to return for years to come. And, it will create more and more revenue for the State of Alabama.

It’s time to put the wishes of the driving public first. And, it’s time to look after the interests and needs of those who live on the Gulf Coast and the millions who visit here every year.

 

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Opinion | Education is key to Alabama’s future

Rusty Glover

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As a former high school educator my time in the classroom gave me many valuable life lessons. Not a single year passed where I did not see the effects that cuts had on our students, their achievements, and even their parents.

While we are beginning to see an economic renaissance nationally, the figures from the latest hard data in 2016 show just how slow the recovery was for many people. In my own area of Southwest Alabama, the most recent figures show an underemployment rate of 23.7% – nearly 1 in 4 people are looking for better jobs and are willing to commute longer distances for those jobs.

Yet, of the five fastest growing occupations in the same area – four of the occupations can either be taught or outright require a community or technical college training.

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Education will be part of the next legislative session. In a time when it seems everything is in flux – education and its impact on our communities remains a constant.

In a 2017 article, it was reported that of 67 counties – 18 had either local school systems or colleges as the county’s largest employer. It should be noted, that of the top eight counties for population – the largest employer in six of them are education institutions or school systems.

However, what is our plan? I never taught without planning my own lessons. How then can we effectively seize our future without a plan?

What I propose is to get back to the basics. Greater localized control, while working with every school system in the state to reduce classroom sizes can help our children quickly.

For those in high schools, I pledge to work and develop more streamlined pathways to community and technical college training. Increasing access to broadband at the same time will allow students across the state to take advantage of our higher education resources in a quick, thorough, and efficient fashion.

This can deliver to Alabama both the higher personal incomes and long term tax base our state needs – without raising personal taxes.

As your Lieutenant Governor, I would bring the perspective of a teacher – one who understands what cuts to education looks like at the dinner table and who understands the importance of education to our local communities.

As a native of Mobile, Glover has served in the Alabama Legislature for 16 years as a member of Alabama House of Representatives (2002-2006) and Senate (2006-present). Glover is a graduate of B.C. Rain High School, Faulkner State Community College and the University of South Alabama. He retired after 25 years of teaching from Mary G. Montgomery High School in Semmes, where he lives with his wife, Connie. Together they have two daughters, Kellie and Katie; a son-in-law, John McGraw; and a new grandson, Beau Monroe McGraw. He is a member of Wilmer Baptist Church in Wilmer, AL. Visit rustyglover.com to learn more. 

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Opinion | Strengthening our hand with Iran

Martha Roby

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President Trump recently announced he will withdraw the United States from the Iran Nuclear Agreement. From the very beginning, I said this was a flawed, weak deal that serves the interests of bad actors in Iran at the expense of our own. I support the Trump Administration’s efforts to ensure that we truly end Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

After all, wasn’t that the point of this agreement in the first place? Under the deal, the Iranian regime was to dismantle their nuclear weapons program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Needless to say, this didn’t work out, and that’s largely because the Obama Administration failed to uphold the basic tenets they laid out for this agreement from the start.

For example, when the previous Administration was negotiating this agreement more than three years ago, they originally said the United States would perform inspections on suspected Iranian nuclear facilities that could occur anywhere, at any time, to ensure that this rogue regime wouldn’t be able to quietly continue their efforts to develop a nuclear weapon. In reality, the Iranians ended up having up to 24 days’ notice in many cases before inspections were allowed to occur. Even then, Americans were prohibited from unilaterally performing them. This is just one example of the many ways the Iran deal fell far short of accomplishing what the Obama Administration promised Congress and the American people.

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Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism, and that hasn’t changed over the last three years. While actively supporting terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, the nation has been part of horrific terrorism in Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon. The regime has also been developing long-range ballistic missiles. Their ballistic missiles program threatens Israel, our allies in the region, and even U.S. forces.

It is no secret that Iran has not stopped its mission to obtain a nuclear weapon, and Israeli intelligence actually proved Iran deceived negotiators from the outset by covering up their nuclear weapons program prior to signing the agreement in 2015. So now, the regime has the best of both worlds: relief from economic sanctions and the freedom to continue their nuclear weapons program without consequence.

For starters, I believe it is imperative that we reinstate the economic sanctions against Iran that were in place prior to the Obama-era nuclear agreement. In the House, I have supported policies like this that strengthen our hand towards Iran, including the Iran Sanctions Extension Act, which Congress passed in 2016 to reauthorize for ten years the economic penalties used by the United States to deter Iran from furthering developing ballistic missiles and supporting terrorism.

Clearly, there is great room for improvement in our dealings with this rogue nation. As I have said many times before, the Obama Administration’s behavior towards Iran was truly baffling, and I am glad that we have now reversed course. I am hopeful that the Trump Administration can strengthen our hand with Iran after eight years of it being severely weakened. At the end of the day, the bottom line is that Iran’s nuclear weapons program, support for terrorist organizations, and development of ballistic missiles pose a direct threat to the United States and our allies. We must take this very seriously throughout future negotiations with this regime. To do otherwise compromises our own national security.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband Riley and their two children.

 

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Opinion | Four reasons why parents want the Alabama State Board of Education to remain elected

by Deborah Love Read Time: 5 min
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