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Opinion | Montgomery’s charter school mess

Josh Moon



By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

Good charter schools exist.

This is a fact. An undeniable fact.

There are good charter schools out there doing fantastic work, filling a void that a public school simply cannot.


The problem is there are also a lot of bad charter schools and even more just plain ol’ average charter schools — that mostly do a worse job educating kids, even when compared to schools in districts that struggle badly.

There are horror stories from multiple states now of charters operated by scam artists, opening their doors, hauling in tax dollars, and then closing just as quickly, leaving the kids and the communities out of luck and the taxpayers on the hook. But don’t take my word for it, Google up “Charter school scam” and read through the stories.

Alabama officials swore things wouldn’t go that way in this state when they introduced legislation a couple of years ago allowing for charters.

There would be a commission. There would be some local control. There would be a set of guidelines to follow and we’d get help from people who know what they’re doing.

That help came in the form of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, which was cited in the legislation allowing for charter schools as the organization that would aid Alabama in ensuring would-be charter schools complied with the basic rules and laws required to operate a successful school. The state signed a contract with NACSA, paying it nearly $70,000 to review charter applications in FY2017.

It was apparently money wasted.

A few weeks ago, the Alabama Charter School Commission approved the very first charter school for Montgomery, LEAD Academy. In doing so, the Commission flatly ignored a report from the NACSA recommending that LEAD not be approved and stating in detail how the school’s application failed to fully meet any of the three standards used for approval.

It’s even worse than it sounds.

LEAD didn’t simply forget to dot an i or cross a t. The public report from the NACSA stated that LEAD’s board lacked any experience in leading a k-12 school, that it failed to provide a clear and comprehensive program plan and that a number of items in its proposed budget were not reasonable.

But wait, it gets worse.

The NACSA report also raised questions about LEAD’s facility plan, which seemed suspect since it relied heavily on financing from a potential vendor — something NACSA considered a potential conflict of interest — with an extremely high interest rate (21.65 percent). The report also states that LEAD’s board members couldn’t answer basic questions about their plans for purchasing a building and renovations of that building.

So, NACSA considered that a potential problem.

And it was.

On Monday, LEAD announced that plans to purchase a building in Montgomery had fallen through. The search is currently on to find a new location and the school’s leadership team is unsure if the setback will delay the projected August start date.

What a mess.

And you know why it’s a mess? Because LEADs wasn’t approved because it deserved to be or because it will bring a quality school to Montgomery or because it will fill a gap that’s going unserved in Montgomery.

It was approved because of money.

The City of Montgomery desperately needs some. It desperately needs businesses to relocate to the city, bringing in families with disposable incomes to help offset the financial obligations required to fix up downtown, and it can’t do that currently because 60 years of ignoring its segregated school system has caught up to it.

And the people in suits are in a panic.

Now, we could tell people the truth: That the decades of segregation and underfunding have left Montgomery with a dire problem that will require significant resources to correct, that taxes have to be raised, that new school programs for both adults and children must be implemented and that the magnet program can no longer be segregated.

But no one wants the right way.

They want the cheap and easy way.

So, charter schools are the answer this year.

And the scheming to make sure it happens has been dialed up to 11. Just consider the coincidences.

The former head of the Charter School Commission, Ed Richardson, is now serving as interim state superintendent at a time when the state is in the midst of a takeover of Montgomery’s school system, and he couldn’t be happier to tell you about how just dadgum awful the public schools are in Montgomery.

In the meantime, Richardson’s former board votes 5-1 to approve LEAD’s application, which doesn’t seem odd until you remember that there are 11 members of the Charter School Commission. According to the bylaws posted on the Commission’s website, a majority vote of the commission is required to take action. That, by my math, would mean six votes.

But bylaws, shmylaws, amirite?

Montgomery needs a charter school by any means necessary. And it doesn’t matter, apparently, if that charter school has failed the application process, has a board staffed with people ill-equipped to operate a school, has an unreasonable financial plan, no clear program plan and has budgeted for one — ONE! — special ed teacher to teach over 100 special ed students.

None of that matters. Money does.

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Opinion | Greed is threatening the daycare bill again

Josh Moon



By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

It is happening again.

In the bowels of the Alabama State House, where the rancid sausage of state government is put together, the men are scheming again.

Scheming to kill, or severely weaken, the daycare licensing bill.


The same people are involved: Sen. Larry Stutts, the Alabama Eagle Forum and Sen. Shay Shelnutt.

For the last several days, Rep. Pebblin Warren and other advocates for the daycare bill have been meeting with that group of malcontents, listening to their insane demands and trying to come up with some way to placate this group who will apparently go to the mat to prevent churches from spending the money to properly care for and protect defenseless children.

The bill is expected to be on the Senate floor Thursday, but its fate is, at this point, unknown. Which is, quite honestly, astonishing.

Even for this group, the blatant bending to the almighty dollar in this instance is breathtaking.

In case you’ve forgotten what’s being proposed here, let me provide a quick refresher: Warren’s bill would force church-affiliated daycares to mostly follow the same rules and regulations as non-church daycares.

That’s it.

There’s nothing sneaky. No one wants to force the church daycares to bake a cake for a gay wedding.

There’s a specific provision within the bill that makes it clear that the guidelines being imposed relate entirely to the safety of the children and that the state will not get involved with curriculum.

But that’s not really a problem. And this small band of malcontents know it.

This is about money.

That’s what it’s always about in Alabama. Even when the people chasing that dollar routinely invoke the name of a man who warned repeatedly of the dangers of valuing money over people.

These daycares churn out a profit for the churches. And because they’re not beholden to the same guidelines as non-church daycares, they can often churn out a huge profit.

The math is pretty easy. If a church daycare and a non-church daycare each have 20 kids enrolled, but the non-church daycare is required to employ four, trained workers to watch those kids, while the church daycare employs just Bill, a guy who had a few hours to kill today, guess which one makes more money.

But you know, that’s not really a fair example. Because it makes Bill sound semi-competent. And in some cases, the employees, and the administrators, of these “church daycares” are anything but competent, respectable people.

You might recall that we had this debate last year. This same group of people managed to kill the daycare bill.

Less than two months after they did so, a 5-year-old child in Mobile was dead.

Because the “church daycare” he attended didn’t run a basic background check on the person driving the daycare van. Had it, it would have learned that its employee had a long criminal record.

Instead, the child was left to suffocate and die in scorching hot van and his small, lifeless body was dumped in some random front yard.

See, that’s the sort of thing that licensing prevents.

It also prevents the unintentional poisoning of children (yep, that happened), the burning of children by workers smoking cigarettes too close to them (happened), the near death of dozens of children from extreme food poisoning (happened) and the deaths of children in a fire-trap daycare (happened).

We all know what the right thing is here. And in moments when they’re not beholden to special interest groups and lobbyists, Alabama’s lawmakers let you know that they also know what’s right.

Gov. Kay Ivey did so last August, shortly after the death of the 5-year-old in Mobile. When asked if all church daycares should be regulated, Ivey said she “strongly believes” that all daycares should be licensed by the state.

But that was before campaign season. Before the church-backed lobbying groups and PACs got involved.

These days, Ivey is less forceful. Sources told APR that Ivey told a group of lawmakers that she would take no position on the bill.

When I asked her office directly what her position is, “strongly believes” all daycares should be state licensed morphed into … some other words.

Governor Ivey remains in favor of improved guidelines for day care facilities in Alabama,” the statement from her office read. “She believes more must be done to protect our children and that it is essential we have quality day care staff, rendering quality service.”

It is essential.

Unfortunately, with our weak state leadership — from the governor’s office on down — bending to the call of money, thousands of Alabama are unlikely to experience that essential service.

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Opinion | Active shooter on campus! Wasp spray may save us

Joey Kennedy



By Joey Kennedy
Alabama Political Reporter

I spent 90 minutes Tuesday afternoon in UAB’s Heritage Hall learning how to respond to an active shooter on campus.

You know, some deranged individual out to cause as much mayhem has he can, shooting and killing and shooting. And killing.

Yeah, it’s sad. But it’s today’s reality.


I teach English at UAB. I’ve been doing this for 18 years. I love it.

My first semester of teaching was September 2001. Two weeks into the semester, terrorists flew passenger jets into the Trade Towers in New York, into the Pentagon in Washington, into the ground in Pennsylvania.

I truly had no idea what I was doing, in front of my class at UAB that first semester in 2001. And two weeks into it, I had 9/11.

I didn’t count absences on that Sept. 11. We coped. We endured. We hurt. We still hurt.

In the 18 years I’ve been a part-time English teacher at UAB, we’ve endured many horrible shootings, many terror attacks.

Columbine happened two years before I started teaching. But since then, there have been so many shootings. Too many shootings to list, too many shootings to name.

But not so many that some can’t be named. Like the 2007 massacre on the campus of Virginia Tech University, where a senior student shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others.

Some of these shootings are too close to home, like the 2010 catastrophe at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, where 44-year-old biology professor Amy Bishop killed the chairman of the biology department and others.

And more school shootings, many other school shootings, too many other school shootings, including the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012. Twenty 6- and 7-year-old children died that day, as well as six members of the school’s staff.

Since Sandy Hook, there are yet other shootings – not just school shootings, either, though there have been plenty of those. In Charleston at a church. In Orlando at a nightclub. In Las Vegas at a concert.

And, yet, Congress, dominated by NRA Republicans, refuses to act. Refuses to do what it can to make us more safe.

Then, on Valentine’s Day, in Parkland, Fla., a few weeks ago, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, 17 students and adults were gunned down. Others were injured.

A few weeks ago. The students there aren’t staying quiet. They’ve started the #NeverAgain movement, and on March 24 in Birmingham, there will be a rally at Railroad Park and a march through Birmingham to encourage – implore – our political leaders to do something.


So here I am, an English instructor at UAB, for 18 years now, sitting in a classroom to receive instruction on how to respond to an active shooter on campus. There’s even a pamphlet: “UAB Police Active Shooter Guide.”

A pamphlet.

It’s where we are, as a nation, where we are today. I praise UAB officials and campus police for offering the class. When I received the message from the dean that the classes were available, I wanted to cry. Hell, I did cry.

How did we get here? Where, instead of teaching the Rhetorical Triangle, I’m worrying about barricading a door or making sure my students evacuate the building before being gunned down by a nut.

What stunned me before my active shooter class even started was that, since 2014, UAB Police officials have conducted nearly 200 such active shooter response classes.

This was my first.

And I learned that wasp spray might be my best weapon. We were told that even trained officers, police officers who go to shooting ranges, work under stressful conditions, patrol and police in the real world, miss 70 percent to 80 percent of the time they fire their weapons.

So, we’re told, that distracting the shooter may be our best option, if we can’t high-tail-it out of our building to a safer place.

Barricade the doors with chairs and desks and filing cabinets. But if the shooter gets in, distract him by throwing stuff at him. Swarm him. Maybe, I decided, I would carry the wasp spray and have it handy if the shooter looked my way. Hornet poison certainly will hurt, if you aim it right.

And an AR-15 will kill, even if you aim it wrong.

Yet, I mainly want to teach my students how to negotiate a college essay or convince them that Ernest Hemingway, the bastard that he was, is the best short story writer of the 20th century.

I want to encourage my students to read and enjoy words. I want them to appreciate Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening,” especially when Edna takes off her clothes and swims deep into the Gulf of Mexico to claim her independence.

I want my students to celebrate a good semester, to rejoice and appreciate their A or B or C.

I don’t want to keep wasp spray in my book bag. But I guess I will.

Because this is now. And, frankly, now sucks.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes this column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

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Opinion | Montgomery reappoints disgraced judge, needs new leadership

Josh Moon



By Josh Moon

Alabama Political Reporter

Former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard shouldn’t go to prison.

Nope. His sentence should be commuted and he should be returned to his lofty position atop the Alabama House, because the things he did, while illegal, were not things that he invented and he wasn’t alone in doing those things.


Lots of lawmakers before him were using their offices for personal gain. Lots of lawmakers were involved in the schemes, or schemes very similar, for which Hubbard was convicted of 12 felonies.

So, set the man free and let him reign over the Legislature once again.

That’s stupid, right?

No one believes that the above argument — that others were doing it, so what’s the big deal? — is an argument that holds any real weight with adults, right? It’s an elementary schooler’s argument, right?

Well, apparently y’all haven’t met the Montgomery City Council and Mayor Todd Strange.

Because if their friends were jumping off bridges, they would be right with them.

On Tuesday, despite vocal disagreement from numerous citizens — and not a single citizen speaking in favor of it — the council accepted the mayor’s reappointment of Judge Lester Hayes to the Montgomery Municipal Court.

If you’re unfamiliar with Hayes, you should be aware that he’s quite unique in Alabama, a state that goes to great lengths to never, ever punish or even investigate most judges. Hayes was not only investigated, he was removed from the bench in 2016.

That decision by the Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) followed a number of complaints filed against him over his continued jailing of indigent defendants, and also because of his use of a private probation company contracted with the City of Montgomery to extract pennies from the penniless.

The JIC called the findings against Hayes — that he violated TEN! different canons of judicial ethics — “very troubling” and “serious.”

And they were.

Because in addition to violating those canons, Hayes also blatantly violated Alabama law when he locked up poor people without offering them a chance to explain their situation or present evidence of indigency.

And he continued to do this, over and over, despite complaints from attorneys in town, despite threats of lawsuits from the Southern Poverty Law Center, despite the pleas of poor people and despite his responsibility to know and uphold the laws of this state.

And Hayes stopped this practice, not out of some deep concern for the people of Montgomery or out of a crisis of conscience, but because he and the city courts were sued on three separate occasions in federal court.

And to prove there was zero remorse on his part, Hayes illegally took a legal job with the City of Montgomery and was later forced by the JIC to repay the city his salary.  

But on Tuesday, none of that mattered to the mayor and seven of the Montgomery City Council members who voted to reappoint Hayes to the bench. (Only councilman Tracy Larkin voted against Hayes.)

Their childlike reasoning: Hayes wasn’t the only judge to lock up poor people, and he didn’t start the practice.

For normal adults, such a statement would be the start of a process to remove all of the judges who violated the laws so blatantly. Because while the council spoke at great length of how such practices were common in Alabama and in other cities, it is more common that such practices are uncommon.

Thousands of American cities have managed to conduct business without operating debtors’ prisons. They either never had them, recognizing their cruelty and uselessness, or they voluntarily stopped them without court intervention.

But Montgomery is apparently led by a different group of people.

That group was unconcerned that Hayes had admitted in legal filings to treating the citizens that the council are supposed to represent unfairly and cruelly. That group of city leaders apparently believe it’s OK if judges get caught up in an illegal conspiracy to improperly jail citizens. That leadership group accepted a juvenile excuse and ignored their constituents.

So maybe Les Hayes isn’t the real problem here.

Maybe Montgomery needs new leadership.

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Opinion | Montgomery’s charter school mess

by Josh Moon Read Time: 5 min