Featured Columnists Opinion | AEA lawsuit could save charter schools Published 5 months ago on March 6, 2018 By Josh Moon Share Tweet By Josh Moon Alabama Political Reporter The Alabama Education Association filed a lawsuit Monday against the Alabama Charter School Commission members and interim state superintendent Ed Richardson. And you should be on the AEA’s side. It doesn’t matter if you hate the AEA. It doesn’t matter if you hate public education.Advertisement It doesn’t matter if you looooove charter schools. Subscribe to our daily newsletter You should agree with the AEA on its lawsuit to stop a charter school in Montgomery. Because what’s happening in Montgomery will kill charter schools in Alabama. It will hurt public education. It will do damage to children. And it will suck tax dollars out of your pockets. Everyone in Alabama should be rooting for the AEA. This charter school in Montgomery — LEADs Academy, the city’s first ever charter — was approved last month by the Commission. It has no building. Its board is comprised of members who have never operated a k-12 school. Its budget is a mess. Its plan lists one special ed teacher for more than 100 students. In short, LEADs Academy should not be planning to open its doors in August, welcoming hundreds of students and using thousands of tax dollars. But it is. Because the Commission broke its own rules and standards to make it happen. As AEA attorneys point out in the lawsuit — and as I pointed in a column last week — the Commission approved this charter school in Montgomery on a 5-1 to vote. There are 11 members on the Commission and its bylaws state a majority is required to take official action. (Those same bylaws also allow for members to phone in to attend meetings, so the fact that they couldn’t get a majority is a fairly significant sign.) In addition to that, the experts that this state pays to evaluate charter school applications turned down LEADs Academy. In 2017, we paid the National Association of Charter School Authorizers nearly $70,000 to review applications and provide detailed reports on why some schools were approved and others were not. The NACSA took a look at LEADs’ application and said nope. In the three categories that NACSA uses to judge charters’ applications — educational program, operations planning and financial planning — LEADs didn’t meet any of the standards. When this charter schools bill was pushed through the legislature, those responsible for it, in order to garner support, privately assured their hesitant GOP brethren that they shouldn’t worry about Alabama’s inexperienced commission because NACSA would be utilized to ensure things stayed on the up and up. We didn’t make it a year before politics overrode process. This is how charter schools die. First it’s one shady charter, approved because city leaders need something to pitch to potential businesses. Then, they spread. And then, they fold. Taking with them millions in tax dollars. It has happened all over the country. Ohio. Arizona. Louisiana. Florida. Florida has watched 119 charter schools close since 2008, including 14 that closed before they ever welcomed a student. But not before any of them sucked in millions in taxpayer dollars. In those Republican-led states, as in this one, the charters were billed as capitalism’s answer to “failing public schools.” Except, it turns out, that without stringent oversight — similar to the oversight in place for public schools — charters can’t manage to do as well as the worst public schools. This is now the pathway we’re on here in Alabama, thanks to the approval of LEADs. The process doesn’t matter. The oversight doesn’t matter. The shadiness can be overlooked. The politics of the situation weighs more. It’s not right. And everyone involved knows it. We can have good charter schools in this state that supplement our public schools. They can be valuable tools to provide a quality education to a state full of children who desperately need it. Oddly, it’s the AEA trying to ensure it. Print this piece Related Topics:Alabama Education AssociationattorneysbrokeCharter School Commission memberschildrendamagefiledhurtJosh MoonlawsuitLEADs AcademyMonday againstMontgomeryrulesstandardssuck tax dollarsSuperintendent Ed Richardson Up Next Opinion | Crusaders against payday lenders sink to new low Don't Miss Committee rejects bill offering scholarships to encourage more rural doctors Josh Moon Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter. Continue Reading Featured Columnists Opinion | What in the world happened to Robert Bentley? Published 1 day ago on July 20, 2018 By Josh Moon Being governor is hard. It’s a tough, gruelling job that requires 24-hour attention and results in long, long days for the man or woman who holds the position. Such a job can wear on a person, grinding them down physically and mentally. And if you doubt the negative effects that such a job can have on the mental stability of a person, consider former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley. Because somewhere between his first inauguration in 2011 and his stunning forced resignation in 2016, Bentley lost his mind. And it’s still gone today. Advertisement In a recent deposition in a wrongful termination civil suit filed by former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency Secretary Spencer Collier, Bentley provided some of the weirdest, most perplexing answers. Subscribe to our daily newsletter Like, for example, on the topic of his wife of 50 years, Dianne, discovering his relationship with his staffer, Rebekah Mason, Bentley was asked if Dianne found the relationship inappropriate. “I’m sure that she did,” he responded. “Do you consider the relationship inappropriate?” Bentley was asked by Collier’s attorney, Kenny Mendelsohn. “No,” the former governor said flatly. Um, say what? That also seemed to be the general reaction in the deposition room to this answer. Because Mendelsohn immediately followed up with questions about Bentley’s multiple press conferences in 2016, during which he spoke of his “inappropriate relationship” with Mason. I know this to be true because I attended all of those press conferences. I heard him say these things, express remorse for his actions, apologize to his family. As a matter of fact, that he ONLY had an inappropriate relationship — and not a sexual relationship — with Mason was his entire defense at those press conferences. By the way, he’s held on to that “we didn’t have sexual intercourse” claim, too. Doubled and tripled down on it during this deposition, claiming there was a lot of touching and kissing but no sex. No intercourse. No oral sex. But really, I’m just not sure how much faith we can put in the former governor’s statements about his relationship with Mason. And I say that because of one specific exchange between Bentley and Mendelsohn. One exchange that is so unbelievable, so off-the-wall bonkers that you have to wonder if Bentley has wandered into space cadet territory. That exchange comes after his astounding assertion that the relationship with Mason — who now works for him, making $5,000 per month at his dermatology practice — wasn’t inappropriate. Mendelsohn asks Bentley why — if the relationship with Mason wasn’t inappropriate — did Bentley hold multiple press conferences to apologize. Bentley says he doesn’t know. No. Not that he doesn’t recall why he did it. But he literally doesn’t know why he was apologizing. “At that time, I didn’t know what I was apologizing for, because I didn’t even know what I was talking about,” Bentley insists. “You know, I apologized for inappropriate things that I may have said, but at that time I didn’t know what those things were. If I had to do over again, I probably wouldn’t have had a press conference that day.” Bentley insists repeatedly that when he apologized during a press conference — a press conference specifically called to refute claims made by Collier, who had held his own press conference a few hours earlier — he had no idea why he was talking. He had never heard the tapes, Bentley says, of him describing how he loves to walk up behind Mason and put his hands on her breasts. According Bentley, he didn’t watch Collier’s press conference. No one told him what was said. He just grabbed a prepared statement and started talking. Ohhhhh, and if you think that’s some insanity, try this on: Bentley claims he wasn’t sure it was Mason who was on the other end of those calls Diane Bentley secretly recorded. “I’m not denying it was her, I’m just saying there’s no concrete evidence that it was her,” Bentley said. “But most likely it was.” Mendelsohn, obviously flabbergasted by this, asks the obvious: “As we sit here today, I’m asking you, was it her?” Bentley: “I don’t remember doing that. I don’t remember the tapes.” Mendelsohn: “Is there anybody else that you would have been talking to about holding their breasts and pulling them up close to you, like what’s in the tapes?” Bentley: “I don’t remember the tapes. I don’t remember doing what it says on the tapes.” Honestly, I don’t even know what to say about that. But I can say this. When he was the upset winner in 2010 and became governor, Robert Bentley had a lot of people who believed in him, a lot of people who thought he was a good and decent guy who would try to do a good job. Those same people have no idea what happened to that man. And judging by this deposition, he’s still lost. Print this piece Continue Reading Featured Columnists Opinion | Alabama voters: You just don’t care Published 2 days ago on July 19, 2018 By Joey Kennedy Secretary of State John Merrill expected turnout in Tuesday’s Democratic and Republican Party primary runoffs to be “extraordinarily low.” Merrill said he thought, on average, 15 percent to 18 percent of the state’s registered voters would go to the polls. Even that was wishful thinking. Alabama voters: You don’t care. With as much going on in Alabama and American politics at this moment in history, you just don’t give a damn. Early numbers indicated fewer than 12 percent of Alabama’s registered voters bothered to take a few minutes to be heard in Tuesday’s runoffs.Advertisement True, in some areas, Democrats didn’t really have runoffs. But Republicans had runoffs in key statewide races, including lieutenant governor, attorney general, and the courts. Subscribe to our daily newsletter And even where Democrats had runoffs – Jefferson County is an example – voting numbers were low. Alabama voters, you just don’t care. Of course a lot of this is on Merrill and Republicans in control of the House, Senate, and governor’s mansion, where the goal, truly, is a low voter turnout. Republicans don’t want voters to go to the polls because they’ll have more trouble staying in control if they do. Strict photo voter ID, a prohibition against crossover voting in taxpayer-funded primaries, purges of voter rolls, keeping former inmates from re-registering to vote, partisan gerrymandering, the lack of early voting or multiple-day voting – all of this is part of the GOP’s efforts to suppress voter turnout. That hideous, mean-spirited strategy is wildly successful, too. Consider also that the turnout of “registered” voters does not mean “eligible” voters. Many voters are eligible, but for whatever reason, don’t register to vote. So Tuesday’s turnout of eligible voters was likely quite a bit below 10 percent. In that vote, Republicans nominated their candidates for lieutenant governor (the second highest position in Alabama government) and attorney general (the state’s top law enforcement officer). U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, a disaster and embarrassment for Alabama in Congress for awhile now, was re-nominated for her fifth term and will likely defeat her Democratic Party opponent in November. Another career politician, Republican Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, was defeated in her primary for lieutenant governor, but this was a free election for political opportunist Cavanaugh. She’ll simply return to her post as president of the Alabama Public Service Commission, having lost little, and where she’ll continue to do little. But Cavanaugh will be well-rested for whatever political opportunity she tries to grab in 2020. Important runoffs in Jefferson County for the five-member County Commission saw two of the most contentious Birmingham City Council members unseat more reasonable incumbents. At least these two are off the City Council now, but they’ll no doubt take their professional dysfunction to the Jefferson County Commission. Because voter turnout was so low, the results don’t truly reflect what might have happened had voters turned out in the numbers they should have. But c’mon, Alabama voters: You don’t really care, do you? Oh, you’ll gripe at the results, sure. You’ll moan and roll your eyes when the candidates you didn’t vote for embarrass your county or state. But you really don’t give a damn. Maybe that’ll change some if the Southern Poverty Law Center’s and Campaign Legal Center’s Alabama Voting Rights Project is successful. Secretary of State Merrill won’t like it, but that’s really more of a recommendation for the project than not. The SPLC and CLC want to make it clear to tens of thousands of Alabamians that a felony conviction doesn’t permanently take away a person’s right to vote. Once an individual has fully paid for his crime, he can get his voting rights reinstated. According to the SPLC’s July 12 announcement, “Workers will organize and train local leaders in communities across the state, participate in community events and forums, and go door to door to work with formerly incarcerated people who may be eligible to vote under Alabama law. They will also make use of an online tool, www.alabamavotingrights.com, that will guide formerly incarcerated Alabamians through the process of registering or re-establishing their voting status.” Many of these “criminals” were convicted of nonviolent drug or other nonviolent offenses. They’ve paid their debt. Being eligible to vote again is an important part of their successful return to society. “So many people fought and died to ensure that all citizens have a voice in our society through the right to vote, yet many men and women – disproportionately people of color and poor people – have been denied the right to vote even after serving their time and completing their sentences,” said Lecia Brooks, outreach director for the SPLC, in the announcement. “The Alabama Voting Rights Project is dedicated to ensuring that every person who is eligible to vote in Alabama is registered and that each one of them can access the franchise. A healthy democracy depends on full participation by all members of society.” And that’s what bothers Merrill and his Republican Party minions. “People of color and poor people” are disproportionally going to vote against Republicans. That’s probably why Merrill hasn’t done his duty to make sure these folks know they can regain their voting rights. The SPLC and CLC believe “(t)ens of thousands of additional Alabamians may be eligible to restore their right to vote through a simple application for a state Certificate of Eligibility to Register to Vote.” So yeah, the dastardly plan worked Tuesday – and it has in many previous elections where our state leaders are happy if even 30 percent of registered voters show up. As the state’s top election official, Merrill should be working to guarantee all eligible citizens are registered to vote, to make it convenient for them to vote, to get the highest voter turnout possible. That’s not the strategy, though, and mainly because: 1) Voters don’t care enough to go vote. And, 2) because those in charge simply don’t want them to vote. Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected] Print this piece Continue Reading Featured Columnists Opinion | Alabama: The confused state Published 3 days ago on July 18, 2018 By Josh Moon Alabama is a confusing state. A state that prides itself on its hardworking, blue-collar image but somehow turned out overwhelmingly to vote for the (alleged) billionaire, reality TV star for president was just as bi-polar during Tuesday’s primary runoff election. On one hand, voters seemed to want to rid themselves of long-serving, stagnant politicians, rejecting Democrats Alvin Holmes, John Knight and Johnny Ford and Republicans Twinkle Cavanaugh and Gerald Dial. They seemed to be saying that they wanted ethics and term limits and candidates that were more responsive and energetic. But on the other hand, still standing at the end of the night were Steve Marshall, Martha Roby and Larry Stutts. So, voters were also saying they were cool with a complete lack of ethics, a complete disregard for constituents and a completely awful human. Maybe this is why pre-election polling in Alabama is always so screwed up. How can a pollster figure out what you people want when even you don’t know?Advertisement So, let’s try to dissect this a bit and come up with a few answers. Subscribe to our daily newsletter Let’s start with the Democrats, because they’re easier to understand. Holmes and Knight, with a combined 70 years of experience serving in the Alabama House, lost to two dudes who have combined to serve for exactly zero years in any state office. David Burkette, who beat Knight for what seemed like the 50th time in the past year, has served as a city councilman in Montgomery, but that’s the extent of their political experience. Kirk Hatcher, who I couldn’t pick out of a lineup with The Beatles, has zero political experience. All of this fits with a recent trend in the Democratic Party to push for candidates who relate better to real, everyday people. They believe the old-school guys, particularly the multi-term lawmakers, are out of touch with the real people they serve and are selling them out. And those voters are right. For example, while I’ll happily vote for Chuck Schumer over pretty much any dollar-seeking, Bible-thumping Republican, I’d sure like to have an option that isn’t sitting right in the middle of the big banks’ pockets. And so, the Dems have decided to clean house wherever it’s possible. It was possible in Montgomery. Republicans, however, are a different story, which is usually the case. Because while certain factions of the GOP love to play up this alleged independent streak they claim to have, at the end of the day, it’s hard for them to turn their backs on the guy they came in with. They get trapped by the lights and sparkle of the incumbent’s deep pockets. Or at least they used to. Before Twinkle turned dull and Dial time ran out. In those races, Republicans voted against the lifelong politicians, putting Will Ainsworth and Rick Pate, respectively, into office. Ainsworth’s win was particularly satisfying, yet also so confusing. He’s a pro-ethics, pro-term limits guy who once stood up to Mike Hubbard and told him he needed to go. How do you vote for a guy like Ainsworth and then also vote for Steve Marshall? Or Larry Stutts? Marshall, in particular, has governed pretty much the opposite of Ainsworth and former AG candidate Alice Martin, who picked up nearly a third of the votes in the primary. Marshall’s not chasing crime and corruption. His major accomplishments have been weakening the state’s ethics laws — a move the business community rewarded him for — and pushing back against the law that outlaws political action committee (PAC)-to-PAC transfers. Marshall is OK with such transfers now that he’s raking in millions from PACs doing exactly what is outlawed. Speaking of outlaws, I’m not sure how Stutts is even on the ballot, much less still winning GOP elections. He has been nothing but an embarrassment, selling out women and children and selling out everyone else fairly routinely. And yet, he won. I just don’t get it. At the end of these elections, there’s supposed to be a pattern. We’re supposed to be able to look at who won and who lost and tell people what it all means. That voters were tired of this, or happy about that, or that they want a certain type of candidate. Not in Alabama. We apparently do things a bit different here. Print this piece Continue Reading Authors Bill Britt Brandon Moseley Chip Brownlee Joey Kennedy Josh Moon Sam Mattison Steve Flowers Susan Britt Advertisement Latest Popular News15 hours ago Roberson and Gilbert both found guilty of federal corruption charges Elections1 day ago Secretary of State’s Office begins voter fraud investigation in Wilcox and Perry Counties Featured Columnists1 day ago Opinion | What in the world happened to Robert Bentley? Elections1 day ago Walt Maddox, statewide candidates host forum in Gardendale News1 day ago Shelby announces $25.5 million for statewide airport infrastructure News1 day ago Faith leaders screen documentary film on the cash bail system News2 days ago Hubbard lawyer says Gov. 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