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Opinion | Montgomery’s charter school mess

Josh Moon

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By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter

Good charter schools exist.

This is a fact. An undeniable fact.

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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 | Boys State debate couldn’t come at a better time

Joey Kennedy

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What do you think about political debates? Do they matter?

I think they do.

I’m going to participate as part of a panel for two gubernatorial debates next week at Alabama Boys State.

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The Republican gubernatorial candidates will meet on Tuesday evening (7 p.m.) at the University of Alabama’s Morgan Auditorium in Morgan Hall, and the Democratic candidates for governor will debate on Wednesday night in the same place and time.

Other questioners are my former Birmingham News colleague Tom Gordon and Rashad Hudson, the Montgomery reporter for CBS 42 News. The debate will be moderated by CBS 42’s Art Franklin.

It’ll be fun. And, let’s hope, informative.

Most of the candidates have agreed to participate; the big one missing will be Gov. Kay Ivey, who has refused any and all debates. It’d be great to ask her why, but she won’t be there.

Maybe I’ll ask anyway.

As a voter and a journalist, I’m naturally suspicious when a major candidate for public office refuses to face her opponents and discuss her vision and plans. What, exactly, is Ivey trying to dodge or hide?

Retired Judge O.L. “Pete” Johnson, a longtime Jefferson County District Judge, founder of Jefferson County’s drug court, and the longtime director of Alabama Boys State, sponsored by the American Legion, has called on me before. A few years ago, I was part of a Boys State debate panel for a U.S. Senate race.

And over the years, I’ve been on a number of election debate panels, from mayoral races to gubernatorial races.

Johnson does a great job organizing these debates, and it’s timely in that this one is happening right before the June 5 primaries the following week.

This certainly has been an active primary season, with Ivey caught up in a controversy over whether she is gay, which Ivey has strongly denied. Her opponent, far-right conservative Scott Dawson helped fuel that rumor.

On the Democratic side, former Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb found herself defending a convicted sex offender who worked for her campaign.

Current polls are showing that Ivey and Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle are favorites on the Republican side. For Democrats, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox is ahead of Cobb and former state Rep. James Fields.

While it’s a shame Ivey won’t be there, it does leave the governor open for political hits from her opponents, without an opportunity for her to reply in the moment.

I’m sure the candidates will have to answer questions about the controversies, but I’m hoping we can focus more on their visions and plans for their term as Alabama’s governor.

What are their positions on education, prison reform, economic development, equality, gun violence, mental health reform, infrastructure improvements, the environment, and efforts to weaken the state’s ethics laws?

I’ll likely ask a question about Alabama’s weak animal protection laws as well.

But I’d like to give readers a chance to ask questions, too. So either in an email ([email protected]) or in the comments sections on Facebook posts of this column, tell me what you’d like to ask the candidates, either generally, or specific to one candidate. I’ll share these with the other panelists as well.

Debates are an important tool that allows us to get to know the candidates better. They also present a record so we know what a candidate says he or she will do, then what that person does after winning the election.

During the week when Alabama Boys State is in session, many young people – Alabama’s current and future voters – will get to see these candidates up close and hear their ideas.

So send your questions and let’s have a debate.

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

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Opinion | Inside the Statehouse: Less than two weeks to primary – governor’s race

Steve Flowers

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As we get down to the lick log in the 2018 June Primary, there are few if any surprises in any of the major state races. Polling indicates that all of the contests are about where they were three or four months ago when the races began.

There is a tremendous amount of apathy and indifference as we head into the final days. This lack of enthusiasm has also affected fundraising. Most of the high-profile races have not attracted the amount of dollars as in the past.

Kay Ivey is sitting on a sizeable lead in the GOP gubernatorial primary. She took a slight dip in the polls when she ducked out of debates. However, it is not as pronounced as it would have been if she had appeared.  Her campaign has been managed brilliantly.

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Coincidentally, at the same time that her staff adroitly kept her out of the debates, her polling picked up that preserving the confederate monuments was an issue with conservative Republican primary voters. Kay’s media folks responded with an ad that could have come out of the George Wallace playbook. They had her telling folks that northern liberals and scalawags were not going to tell us what we are going to do with our monuments. Her resolve made folks wonder if she was actually there when the monuments were erected.

Last week, with only three weeks until the primary, lesbian lawmaker and LGBTQ activist Patricia Todd suggested in social media posts that Kay was gay. Ms. Ivey adamantly denied the tweet. She has adroitly deflected any and all inquiries into her private life.

The bottom line is that polls indicated she had a 30-point lead three months ago, and that lead is about the same now with less than two weeks to go to the Primary. The question is do her challengers push her into a runoff. Speculation is that she could win without a runoff the same way that her mentor, Lurleen Wallace, did in 1966.

The surprise in the GOP race could be Birmingham evangelist, Scott Dawson. He has run a very energetic campaign. Evangelical, rural, Roy Moore voters may be coalescing around the young minister. His strength might be underestimated by polling data.

This white evangelical vote is ironically similar to the African American vote in the state. It is quiet and beats to a different drummer. The message resonates through word-of-mouth between church pews rather than through the media and social media. Although, it eventually gravitates to being somewhat in lock-step with a predictably higher than average turnout.

Most observers expect Huntsville mayor, Tommy Battle, to make a late run at Ivey. He has money in the bank. He will also come out of the vote rich Tennessee Valley with good Friends and Neighbors support. He should get enough votes to run second and force Ivey into a runoff. However, there will still be a 15-to-20 point spread in favor of Ivey when the votes are counted on June 5. Kay will have to put on her campaign bonnet for another six weeks. She will still not debate.

The Democratic Primary for governor has two thoroughbreds battling it out for the opportunity to face the GOP candidate, probably Ivey. Polling in this race between former Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox is inconclusive.

Most of the folks who vote in the Democratic Primary on June 5 will be African American. Although this vote is not monolithic, the pendulum swings toward one candidate.

The African American leadership in the party is actively supporting Walt Maddox. He has also captured a good number of young white millennials and college students. My guess is that Maddox is the winner in the Democratic Primary.

Troy King will probably lead the balloting in the Attorney General contest. Alice Martin and Steve Marshall are battling for a place in the runoff with King.

Twinkle Cavanaugh is poised to get a good vote in the Lt. Governor’s race. If she has a runoff, it will probably be Will Ainsworth from Sand Mountain, who has had a significant TV buy.

State Senator Gerald Dial has surged in the Agriculture Commissioner race, primarily due to a brilliant and upbeat television ad. It is the best TV spot of the year. He is also benefiting immensely from grassroots support from rural volunteer firefighters throughout the state.

Voter ambivalence favors incumbents and those who have voter name identification. Therefore, my prognostication is that when all of the votes are counted in November, we will have a female Republican Governor, Kay Ivey, and a female Republican Lt. Governor, Twinkle Cavanaugh.

We will see.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in more than 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

 

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Opinion | All you need is love

Joey Kennedy

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Oh, Alabama, I cry for you. I cry for you, too, Birmingham.

We make progress, then we wipe it out. It’s the old cliché of two steps forward, one step back. Except during election years, it seems we take no steps forward and 100 years back.

What’s wrong with us? When will we stop hating?

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State Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, was wrong to vaguely out Gov. Kay Ivey as gay in a tweet and on Facebook. Yeah, those rumors have circulated for awhile, but Todd’s tweet has a mean spirit to it, especially considering the state’s only openly gay legislator is leaving the State House and, presumably, the state, to take leadership of an LGBTQ organization in Florida.

This fire was ignited by Scott “I-Don’t-Stand-a-Snowball’s-Chance-in-Hell” Dawson, a Republican opponent of Ivey’s for governor. Dawson, in his self-righteous, white-Evangelical “superiority”, criticized Ivey for funding an LGBTQ anti-bullying organization. In Dawson’s world, it’d be OK to bully gay kids, or worse. In Dawson’s world, philanderer Donald Trump is a “Christian,” and monogamous Barack Obama is the anti-Christ. I’m glad I don’t live in Dawson’s screwed-up world, and I don’t want to go to his screwed-up heaven.

And sure, in the perfect world (not Dawson’s), we want all people, and especially our elected officials, to be who they are. Yet Ivey Wednesday directly denied the rumors, and that’s OK. She gets to decide who she is. We get to decide if that’s who we want to vote for.

But why does it matter if Ivey is gay? Think hard, Alabama. Why. Does. It. Matter? Your own homophobia? Your fear of somebody different? Your twisted Christianity where it’s OK to hate, despite the faith’s namesake demanding that we love?

It should not matter. Except that voters here (maybe everywhere?) respond to emotional, hot-button issues before thinking about whether they even matter. They don’t.

Meanwhile, here in Birmingham we have a controversy between new Mayor Randall Woodfin and a West End pastor known for using his church’s outdoor sign to deliver messages of hate.

New Era Baptist Church pastor the Rev. Michael R. Jordan is upset that the mega-Church of the Highlands may start a branch in his neighborhood. So he posted this on his church’s sign: “Black folks need to stay out of white churches.”

Woodfin responded appropriately: “There is a spirit of racism and division that is over this city. It must be brought down. We have to change the conversation to what we need it to evolve into. ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’”

So now Woodfin is taking heat from some in Birmingham and elsewhere. For wanting love, not hate, to guide our conversations.

The Rev. Jordan decries white flight, and rightly so. He calls Woodfin naïve. He says white people won’t live in his neighborhood, but they want to bring a white church next door.

I’ve written about Jordan’s hate before. In 2004, Jordan posted this on his church’s Hate Board: “AIDS is God’s curse on a homosexual life.”

Jordan’s “god” is much less perfect than mine. AIDS practically wiped out generations of hemophiliacs. It has devastated (and still is) heterosexual communities across the world, especially in Africa. If my God had it out for homosexuals, his aim would be much more precise.

Jordan rails against white Evangelicals who elected Donald Trump. But, you see, there’s not much difference between Jordan’s brand of religion and that of white Evangelicals.

There’s not much difference between Jordan and Dawson. Skin color, yes. Not much else.

Their unifying characteristic: Hate. Whether taught from the pulpit or from a church’s outdoor marquee, or from the campaign trail or in the “white” church, hate is the common denominator.

Woodfin is absolutely right. We must change the conversation.

That’ll be hard, though, because we’re mostly cowards, afraid of each other, of our immigrant neighbors, of the black man walking down the street and the white cop patrolling the streets. We’re afraid of gay people, of Muslims, of Asians, of Rednecks, of Jews, of Catholics. We’re afraid of independent women who want the right to choose, and who don’t want to be the targets of sexual harassment and rape. We live our lives in fear.

We’re even afraid of love.

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

 

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Opinion | Montgomery’s charter school mess

by Josh Moon Read Time: 5 min
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