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Opinion | Back to school priorities

Bradley Byrne

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Over the next few weeks, students across Southwest Alabama will head back to school. The start of a new school year always comes with special emotions for students, parents, and teachers.

In Washington, I am the only Member of Congress from Alabama who serves on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, which has jurisdiction over K-12 education. Through this position, I am able to advocate for our local teachers, students, and parents.

When it comes to education policy, my top priority is always to return control and authority to the local level. I do not want bureaucrats in Washington telling teachers back in Alabama how to do their job. It is exactly this kind of top-down, Washington-knows-best mentality that has failed our students for many years.

Each August, I convene a meeting of our local school superintendents to preview the new school year and discuss issues that impact our local students and teachers. We held the meeting last week in Bay Minette, and our discussion was very informative.

Their top concern this year is school safety, and I agree with them. I know our local administrators are taking steps to ensure that every student remains safe at school, and I am committed to working with our local leaders to make sure they have the resources they need.

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For example, the House has passed legislation to increase grant funding for school safety programs. We need to set aside more money for school resource officers and other tools to help keep our schools safe.

In almost every school shooting, warning signs were there, but they went unreported or officials did not know how to properly respond. I want to change that.

I am also working on legislation that would help make information and research available to all our school officials. This information would help our teachers, counselors, and principals better spot students who are at a high risk of potentially becoming a school shooter.

Another issue important to our schools is career and technical education. I’ve been to many of our local schools and seen these programs firsthand. They work incredibly well, and we need to do more to support them.

I’m pleased to report that just last week President Trump signed the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act into law. This bipartisan bill passed both the House and the Senate without a single dissenting vote.

Since it wasn’t controversial, the national news media ignored the bill, but it is a monumental achievement that will go a long way toward getting students the skills they need to thrive in the 21st Century economy.

See, career and technical education is all about matching the needs of the workforce with students. Despite what some want you to believe, students don’t need to go to a 4-year college to be successful. In fact, many students who go through a career/technical education program go on to make more money than those with a regular 4-year degree.

We have more unfilled jobs in our country today than we have unemployed Americans. That’s a good thing, but it means we need to do a better job of training the workforce oftomorrow. By passing this bill, we took a big step in the right direction.

So, as our students head back to school over the coming weeks, I am going to continue advocating for stronger local control over education and fighting for the issues that our local leaders say are important, like school safety and career/technical education.

I wish all our students, teachers, principals, faculty, and parents all the best as they kick off a new school year!

 

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | A thank you note to Alabama’s teachers


Cam Ward

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My oldest daughter just turned sixteen. She’s driving, and as a dad, it’s a thrilling, but scary moment in life — this week, she started the tenth grade, and the reality is that during the school year, she spends nearly as much time at school as she does around her mom and me. For young people like my daughter, those hours at school are shaped primarily by their fellow students and their teachers.

If everything turns out right, a young person will enter Alabama’s schools around the age of five or six, and by the time they graduate at seventeen or eighteen, they will have a solid grasp of the fundamentals of mathematics, history, American and English literature, biology, and chemistry, among other subjects. We entrust teachers with the awesome responsibility of educating our young people about the basic structure of the universe – to understand and reason through, for instance, the process of photosynthesis – so that they can think analytically when confronted with any type of problem. That’s an incredible responsibility; and to teach such important knowledge to students who, well, haven’t yet achieved full impulse control, is no small task.

We trust our teachers to impart knowledge and facts, but we also expect our teachers to model virtuous behavior before our young people, because knowledge isn’t the same thing as wisdom, and we want our kids to become responsible adults. The best teachers can not only clearly communicate lessons on the history of the Civil Rights movement, but can also talk about, and model in person, the virtues of courage and perseverance that animated heroes like Rosa Parks.

Facts are stubborn things, as the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said, and what she meant by that is that the world is governed by certain unalterable truths, including, for instance, the truth that a free market economy lifts more people out of poverty than socialism does. Teachers turn this knowledge into wisdom by showing students the link between effort and reward: the harder you work, the better grades you will get, and the harder you work once you graduate, the more opportunities you will have in the workplace.

Great teachers impart knowledge and model wisdom, and often they do so at a great cost to themselves: growing up, the best teachers I had were the ones who were willing to stay a few minutes after class to answer my fifteenth question how to solve a quadratic equation. Many teachers often sacrifice time and effort beyond what’s required — the clock often begins before eight, rarely stops at five, and every hour in-between is dedicated to their craft.

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As a state senator, I am committed to ensuring that our schools are well-funded and that our teachers are competitively paid. Nothing is more important to the future of Alabama than supporting education policies that work — and as in business or sports, personnel is policy. I am grateful to the great teachers we have, and I promise to always have your back in Montgomery. Thanks for all that you do — the impact that you will have this school year on my daughter and thousands of other students is life-changing.

Cam Ward represents District 14 in the Alabama State Senate, which includes all or parts of Shelby, Bibb, Chilton, Hale, and Jefferson counties. He serves as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Follow him on Twitter: @SenCamWard

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Opinion | Summer interns served AL-02 with distinction

Martha Roby

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It’s hard to believe that summer is winding down and most students are already back in school. As the mother of two school-aged children, I know firsthand how precious the summer months are and how quickly they always fly by. The Roby family is geared up and ready to take on another school year, and if you have children in school, I wish your family a happy and healthy school year, too.

As a member of Congress, each summer I have the privilege of offering internship opportunities to college students from our district. Students have the choice to intern in my Washington, Montgomery, Dothan, or Andalusia office. Typically, we offer four-week internship opportunities during the months of May, June, July, and August, but we do our very best to accommodate students’ and universities’ varying schedules.

This internship program is a competitive experience designed for those students who are interested in learning more about our nation’s legislative process, constituent services, and the general day-to-day operations of a congressional office. Interns’ tasks vary, but they include conducting tours of the United States Capitol building, drafting and presenting a policy proposal on a legislative topic of their choosing, assisting constituents with their various needs and requests, attending committee hearings, and more.

This summer, I was fortunate to have quite a few outstanding students serve as interns in my offices, and I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you more about these young men and women and their hard work on behalf of the people of Alabama’s Second District.

In my Washington, D.C., office, over the summer we enjoyed having several impressive students join our team for a few weeks:

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Agnes Armstrong is a graduate of the Montgomery Catholic Preparatory School. She is a junior at Auburn University where she studies Accounting and Nonprofit Studies.

Ford Cleveland is a graduate of the Montgomery Academy. He is a sophomore at the University of Virginia where he studies Chemistry.

Noah McNelley is a graduate of Trinity Presbyterian School. He is a junior at Auburn University where he studies Political Science, Business, and French.

Meredith Moore is a graduate of Trinity Presbyterian School. She is a junior at the University of Alabama where she studies Marketing and English.

Hayden Pruett is a graduate of the Loveless Academic Magnet Program (LAMP). She is a sophomore at the University of Alabama where she studies Political Science and Social Welfare.

Brandon Redman is a graduate of Prattville Christian Academy. He is a senior at Faulkner University where he studies Political Science.

William Chandler is a graduate of the Montgomery Academy. He is a junior at Sewanee where he is pursuing double majors in Politics and English.

Bates Herrick is a graduate of the Montgomery Academy. He is a senior at Sewanee where he studies Economics with double minors in Political Science and Business.

Hunter McEntire is a graduate of Houston Academy in Dothan. He attended Birmingham Southern College where he earned a degree in history with a minor in Political Science.

I was also glad to host some bright young men and women in my district offices over the summer:

Allyssa Morgan, a native of Opp, worked in my Andalusia district office. She received an Associate’s degree from Lurleen B. Wallace Community College and is now attending Troy University.

Kimberlee Perry served as an intern in my Dothan district office. She graduated from New Brockton High School earlier this year, and she now attends George Wallace Community College.

Tyrese Lane, Savannah Williamson, and Spencer Andreades all held internships in my Montgomery district office. Tyrese, a Prattville native, is a graduate of Marbury High School and is currently a student at Marion Military Institute. Savannah, from Troy, is a graduate of Pike Liberal Arts and currently attends Auburn University. Spencer is a graduate of the Montgomery Academy and now attends the University of Alabama.

These students worked very hard for our district, and I really appreciate their dedication and eagerness to serve their communities. I’m confident they will be successful in whatever paths they pursue.

You can find out more about my internship program and the application process on my website: roby.house.gov/student-resources/internships. If you know a college-aged student who might be interested in being part of the legislative process for the summer, I hope you will pass this information along to them. I truly believe a congressional internship is a valuable way to gain firsthand exposure to the innerworkings of our nation’s government.

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 | Marion Mayor uses tools to prep residents for AlabamaWorks Success Plus Initiative

Dexter Hinton

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When I was elected in late 2016 as Mayor of Marion, I knew there were certain areas in which our town needed to improve. One was education and work preparedness for those who did not want to attend a four-year college. We had gaps that needed to be filled.

As an Industrial Maintenance and Robotics Instructor at the Career Center in Greene County, I know what resources are available to assist those seeking a job or a skills education. When people come to the center, our team has a plethora of tests, assessments, job listings, resume-building sessions and other items at our disposal to help folks get the right position or training that matches their needs or abilities.

As Mayor, I realized we needed to get educational tools to Marion residents, especially after Moller Tech announced that it would be locating in Bibb County, adjacent to Perry County, and bringing 222 jobs with it. But with a small town like Marion (population 3,432) not having a dedicated resource center, we didn’t quite know how to unite the two. Then one day, I attended a Central AlabamaWorks meeting and saw AIDT’s mobile unit, which is the Department of Commerce’s skills education center on wheels.

I spoke with Mikki Ruttan, director of Central AlabamaWorks, after the meeting and asked her about the possibility of getting the unit to our area. I learned it could be customized for the needs of its audience. After numerous discussions with other local leaders, we selected basic resume building and a Ready-to-Work course as the initial offerings. I knew the mobile unit would be key in obtaining career readiness for the citizens of Marion. I also felt that our citizens would welcome the chance to improve their skills and knowledge base.

After dozens of conversations, we got the mobile unit scheduled this past April. We posted and delivered flyers all over the city, announcing when and where the unit would be located, and we created a Facebook page. We had no idea what kind of response we would have for this type of educational opportunity. But, our citizens realized how such training could give them a leg up in the job market. As a result, they turned out in droves to learn more and better position themselves for entry into the job market, or to simply upgrade their skill set.

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With Gov. Kay Ivey’s Success Plus initiative rollout a few months ago, I knew we had to get our citizens more training to help them, and our state, reach the goal of 500,000 people with post-high-school credentials by 2025. The mobile training unit seemed like the perfect way to deliver those opportunities to our residents.

After some discussion, we were able to get the unit at The Lincoln School. We focused the training on Ready-to-Work. The classes filled immediately, and a waiting list soon formed. Our people were eager to gain knowledge to improve their lives and that of their families. Once they completed the course, they received credentials as an Alabama Certified Worker; a Career Readiness certificate; a free three-credit-hour course at Wallace Community College Selma (if they had a high school diploma); three credits toward a high school diploma (if they didn’t have one); and a referral to the Selma Career Center for free certificates or degree information from WCC in welding, industrial maintenance, electrical technology or nursing.

The unit has been so popular with our citizens that two classrooms are now being refurbished at The Lincoln School specifically for AIDT courses. This means we will have a permanent place for our people to get not only Ready-to-Work training, but also training in other much-needed professions offered by Wallace, such as cosmetology, carpentry, welding, automotive technician and others.

The excitement continues to build for our city. In fact, AIDT has already completed one Ready-to-Work training with several graduates who have received employment.

With the extra effort by Central AlabamaWorks, AIDT, the Career Centers and the Alabama Community College System – combined with the excitement and work ethic of our citizens – I know Marionites can and will be a valued part of the Success Plus endeavor. I look forward to seeing what our citizens can achieve for themselves, their families and our community.

Mr. Dexter Hinton is Mayor of Marion, Alabama

 

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Opinion | Doing right and doing write-ins in November

Thomas Scovill

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Because the best politics is good governance and the best governance is based on Republican principles, I vote for Republican nominees so Republicans can control government and enact a Republican agenda to provide the good governance we all expect and deserve.

This means politics is like a team sport. I like the principles of Republicanism, so my team is Republican. I expect everyone on the team to cooperate in getting Republicans into office and in advancing a Republican agenda. Unfortunately, this year I am disappointed by the many Republicans who are not cooperating as they should, so now, unlike the last 50 years, I am not voting a straight Republican ticket in the general election in November.

I will vote for nominees who please me. I will not vote for nominees who displease me. I will use the Dick Shelby precedent and write in the names of Republicans whom I like better.

Some Republican nominees have already won me over. I will vote for my Republican congressman, nominees for county offices, and nominees for local and state-wide judicial offices. I will be voting for most of the Republicans nominees on my general election ballot.

Except for the judges, my plan is to not vote for Republican nominees who want a job in Montgomery. There are 12 of them – the Republican nominees for the House, Senate, governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer, auditor, commissioner for agriculture and industries, public service commission places 1 and 2, and state board of education. Those nominees who want to remain or become Montgomery Republicans are welcome to urge me to change my mind, but they should hurry because I am looking for names to write in. Weighing in out loud on the issues below would help them with me.

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I am disappointed in Montgomery Republicans who stay quiet while others of them break the law.

For example, Attorney General Steve Marshall has taken $735,000 of unlawful contributions from the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) in blatant defiance of Alabama law which prohibits 527 organizations from giving money to Alabama candidates. Marshall is required by law to return the money and has not. Even though campaign finance is the signature issue which swept them into super majority power in 2010, Montgomery Republicans are silent on the issue, perhaps they are too busy preparing alibis for their scofflaw colleague.

Montgomery Republicans are also silent about the Ethics Commission and Republican election officials who, in defiance of state ethics law, are putting candidates on ballots when the candidates have not first filed Statements of Economic Interests (SEI) with the state Ethics Commission. The SEI is an important element in government transparency, or at least it was.

Montgomery Republicans defied the origination clause of the Alabama Constitution when they enacted a Senate bill to create a tax on internet sales. The voluntary tax is taking $50 million out of the Alabama economy this year and will take out much more next year when it becomes compulsory. Of course, Montgomery Republicans do not talk much about this when they are away from extra special, revenue hungry friends.

And in recent years, four Montgomery Republicans have been convicted of crimes – Speaker Mike Hubbard, his House allies Greg Wren and Mickey Hammon, and Governor Bentley – no back benchers here. Meanwhile, three other Montgomery Republican are twisting in the wind of federal indictments.

What happened to the Republican ethic hawks we elected in 2010?

Montgomery Republicans are being blatantly disloyal to the Republican team.

In March, Governor Ivey passed over qualified Republicans to appoint a Democrat to the Madison County Commission. I am baffled that she did not use the opportunity to put a Republican into a traditionally Democrat district. I am disappointed by the silence of Montgomery Republicans.

In May during the week before the primary and while early voting was in progress, the Alabama Republican Party (ALGOP) decided to save PSC 1 candidate Jeremy Oden by censuring his opponent, James Bonner, and declaring that votes for Mr. Bonner would not be counted. Apparently, despite having been on Republican ballots five times since 2010, the sometimes indecorous ways of Mr. Bonner were noticed only when Oden’s investors complained about their guy being in trouble despite a 70 to 1 funding advantage.

Also in this election cycle, ALGOP leaders have turned a blind eye to 60 Republicans, who in defiance of party rules to the contrary, have collectively taken over $600,000 from the Alabama Education Association (the AEA, the parent company of the Alabama Democrat Party). Even House Speaker McCutcheon took AEA money. This is an affront to fair play and those who followed the rule. Of the 60, 55 won or placed in the primary. Meanwhile, Montgomery Republicans were telling the investing class to not contribute to primary candidates challenging GOP incumbents.

I am sad the Alabama GOP is becoming little more than an incumbent protection racket.

None of my concerns are mitigated by brilliance in Montgomery Republicans advancing an impressively Republican agenda. Besides some minor pruning of general government, passing the Alabama Accountability Act to enable the force of competition into government education, requiring voter photo ID, and implementing electronic campaign finance disclosures, in eight years our Montgomery Republicans have done little else I can crow about. They have not even started to reform Medicaid, pensions, earmarks, and the budget process. Alabama government remains the major player in the retail booze business.

What happened to the Republicans we elected in 2010? Today, I am more fearful of what Montgomery Republicans are planning to do to me in 2019, than I am about Alabama Democrats and Socialists.

We have enough Republican cheerleaders. We need leaders who will call out criminality and disloyalty within the party while they boldly advance a Republican agenda. Montgomery Republicans who do that will get my vote. Otherwise, I am going to do what U.S. Senator Shelby did in last year’s special election for the U.S. Senate. I will write in the names of Republicans who please me more than the GOP nominees.

Thomas Scovill is a Republican activist and military veteran. He resides in Huntsville.

 

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Opinion | Back to school priorities

by Bradley Byrne Read Time: 3 min
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