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Interview, Part 1: Rep. Chris England, Charter Schools

Bill Britt



By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

Recently we had the pleasure of speaking with Representative Christopher John England (D) from Tuscaloosa. Rep. England is a man with a mastery of the issues that he champions. His insight sheds light on his thinking toward upcoming legislation and even perhaps the thinking of many in his party.

APR: I was recently a part of forum on school choice, Bill Cosby was the guest speaker. I was able to ask Mr. Cosby about school choice and the prevailing argument made by the AEA and others that if we allow school choice in Alabama then the most disadvantaged and particularly communities of color are going to suffer if there are charter schools and/or school choice. He and the woman who was moderating the event went on sort of a tirade about how that is not true based on the results that they have seen. They said that, if implemented properly, disadvantaged children prospered under school choice and particularly charter schools. I suppose you would disagree with their assertion?

christopher-englandENGLAND: If you go to any rural community, whether it be black or white, and they have one school system, I don’t see where the benefit of charter schools is.

APR: I would have to do more research on it, personally, before I have a more informed opinion. But on its face, I think, choice is a good thing as long as everybody has a choice. I grew up in public schools and they were fine. But, I happened to be fairly studious. Although there were a lot of kids that didn’t do well.

ENGLAND: Well, I think if you offer the superintendents and the principals of the public schools the same opportunity to use whatever ideas they come up with to educate their kids, you will get the same results. The difference is that charter schools can do things that public schools cannot do. It’s not like you are comparing apples to apples.

Also, charter schools also have a good say on how they select their students and what type of student they take so if you don’t have to take any special needs kids then you’re basically controlling the results and the outcome that you produce. If it was the public school system and you say, “We are not going to accept any children with special needs.” Their test scores are going to be better, their results are going to be better. So you can compare apples to apples.

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You can have a charter school and a public school in the same place, and the public school is given the same opportunity that the charter school has to massage their curriculum a little bit or change their focus, you will probably see better results out of the public school.

APR: But Alabama really doesn’t have a mechanism to allow that to happen, is that correct?

ENGLAND: You would actually have to change the law to do it. There would have to be a statutory change to give the freedom to school superintendents to make a decision like that.


APR: So, really, it is up to the Legislature to make the first move on it?

ENGLAND: Yes. To allow them the freedom to use some of the techniques that other states are using. If you want to create a school choice system, that’s fine. But let the public schools offer different options for kids that maybe the school could be more focused on math and science or that the school could be focused on other things.

But to say that charter schools are the answer and not exhaust all of your options in your public school system, I think you are kind of defeating the purpose.

Ultimately, there are still going to be people that depend on that public school system. If you don’t do this charter school legislation correctly you are just going to water down the public school system and we are going to have public schools saturated with children at risk.

I am a huge believer in public schools. I graduated from them…my brother and sister…everybody I know did. They did fine. But time has moved on, societal forces have changed, you need a little more labor-intensive effort with kids these days but we are underfunding our effort. I kind of look at it like we created the results in public schools by not funding them properly.

APR: One of the things that I have been looking into, as well as the budgets, and how funds are allocated, a lot of this comes back to how the AEA has built a massive system to control how schools are run. I am not making a judgment on whether that is good or bad. From the way I look at it, when you have a labor union, which is primarily, in my mind, what the AEA is because they also represent custodial workers and cafeteria workers. All of these people deserve good pay, and I am not saying that they don’t. Then you put on top of that the teachers, that are professionals, but you demand that everyone have the same increase in benefits, increase in tenure and this and that, it becomes a behemoth that is uncontrollable because you are not separating out the jobs.

A teacher’s job is fundamentally much more important than the lunchroom worker’s job. I am not saying you need to privatize that necessarily, but there needs to be some distinction in how we allocate those funds because we can’t give teachers a raise without giving a custodial worker a raise under the current situation. I think there is a fundamental flaw in the system, in my mind.

ENGLAND: Anytime you create a budget around education, you are going to create groups that benefit from that budget and they are going to do what is necessary to protect the money that they get. A lot of people believe, maybe rightly or wrongly, if you break rank at any level whether it be school teacher, bus driver, cafeteria worker or custodian, if you break rank at any level [in a union] and allow that employee to be treated different than others in the same building then it is going to erode away the influence and power of the organization. Membership is power. You are going to run into a road block because some people are going to say that it is dwindling away the influence that the organization has.

APR: I do understand the logic behind it but I am just not sure that, in our current situation, I don’t think this holds up. I don’t think that it is any secret that the Republican Party is bent on breaking or at least curtailing the massive influence of that union.

ENGLAND: But, the focus changes when you are trying to take somebody out, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the final outcome has to be right as long as you achieve the objective.

APR: My interest lies solely in how do we have a next generation of kids that can support themselves, support their families, and achieve some semblance of what we, now almost euphemistically, call the American dream which is owning your own home and paying your way through life, having a retirement and those things that seem almost out of reach to anybody under 30. I have been looking at some studies that suggest the same thing that you said that public schools have got to be given the same choices that charter schools are given. If they are not then they will fail even more.

ENGLAND: Again, you are not comparing apples to apples because a charter school comes in and has the opportunity to do all of these innovative things with kids and help them learn in different ways and the public school system is still strapped with the same restraints, well, you are going to get a different result.

APR: So it would go back to more control over the budget locally, more choice locally, is that where we have to go?

ENGLAND: In my very humble opinion, yes. One of the most exhaustive interview processes these days is hiring a superintendent. They go through all of the vetting and trying to get the best person available to run the school system. But when they get here, get the job, 50 percent of what they want to do (and that is just an estimate) they don’t have the legal authority. I think if the person we hired to come here and fix our school system, and we are going to charge them with running our school system, why not give them the freedom to try some things to see if they work?

APR: I would have to agree with you on that. I always think local control is better than any type of mandate on high because you understand the people, the area, and the specific needs that are unique across this state of ours. You are going to see people in Northern Alabama that have different needs than people in the Wiregrass or areas like that. It is different. I think it is not just an interesting debate but an important debate. Charter schools are coming. We hear that from the Governor, we hear that from the Speaker, it’s happening. I certainly hope they look to see what innovations can be made to allow local schools to do a better job.

ENGLAND: I hope that is part of the package. Honestly, there are legislators, both republican and democrat, who, in their mind, have very successful public schools in their district. They don’t want a threat of a charter school coming in and watering down what they have worked so hard to build in their area. So, you are going to have to find ways to convince those folks that they can achieve some sort of benefit from this legislation and not offend those people in their districts that have worked so hard to make their public school systems as successful as it is.

In the next part of our conversation Rep. England talks about technical and workforce training among other topics.


Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.



Alabama’s COVID-19 hospitalizations, cases continue rise

Average daily hospitalizations continue an ongoing increase as cases nationwide surge.

Eddie Burkhalter




The number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Alabama hit 863 on Wednesday, the highest daily count since Sept 4, as average daily hospitalizations continue a steady increase and cases nationwide surge.

UAB Hospital in Birmingham on Wednesday was caring for 72 COVID-19 inpatients — the highest number the hospital has cared for since Aug. 21. 

In the last two weeks, Alabama has reported an increase of 15,089 new COVID-19 cases, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health and APR‘s calculations.

That number is the largest increase over a 14-day period since the two weeks ending Sept. 9. On average, the state has reported 1,078 new cases per day over the last two weeks, the highest 14-day average since Sept. 9.

The state reported 1,390 new confirmed and probable cases Thursday. Over the last week, the state has reported 7,902 cases, the most in a seven-day period since the week ending Sept. 5. That’s an average of 1,129 cases per day over the last seven days.

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Alabama’s positivity rate, based on 14-day case and test increases, was nearly 16 percent Thursday, the highest that rate has been since mid-September.

Public health experts say the positivity rate, which measures the number of positive cases as a percentage of total tests, needs to be at or below 5 percent. Any higher, and experts say there’s not enough testing and cases are likely to be going undetected. 


“I really won’t feel comfortable until we’re down to about 3 percent,” said Dr. Karen Landers, the state’s assistant health officer, speaking to APR last week

While new daily cases are beginning an upward trajectory, the number of tests administered statewide is not, contributing to the increasing positivity rate. The 14-day average of tests per day on Thursday was 6,856 — a nearly 10 percent decrease from two weeks prior. 

Over the last two weeks, ADPH reported 206 new COVID-19 deaths statewide, amounting to an average of 15 deaths per day over the last 14 days.

So far during the month of October, ADPH has reported 303 confirmed and probable COVID-19 deaths. In September, the total was 373. Since March, at least 2,843 people have died from the coronavirus.

The number of new cases nationwide appear to be headed toward a new high, according to data gathered by the COVID Tracking Project. The United States is now reporting nearly 60,000 cases per day based on a seven-day average. At least 213,672 Americans have died, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

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U.S. Supreme Court rules Alabama can ban curbside voting

“The District Court’s modest injunction is a reasonable accommodation, given the short time before the election,” the three dissenting justices wrote. 

Eddie Burkhalter




The Supreme Court, in a 5-3 decision, allowed Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill to ban curbside voting, staying a district court injunction that had allowed some counties to offer curbside voting in the Nov. 3 election amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Supreme Court’s majority in its order declined to write an opinion, but Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonya Sotomayor’s five-page dissent is included.

The lawsuit — filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Southern Poverty Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Alabama and Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program — was brought on behalf of several older Alabamians with underlying medical conditions.

“The District Court’s modest injunction is a reasonable accommodation, given the short time before the election,” the three dissenting justices wrote. 

Sotomayor, who wrote the dissent, closed using the words of one of the plaintiffs in the case. 

“Plaintiff Howard Porter Jr., a Black man in his seventies with asthma and Parkinson’s disease, told the District Court, ‘[So] many of my [ancestors] even died to vote. And while I don’t mind dying to vote, I think we’re past that – We’re past that time,’” Sotomayor wrote. 

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill on Wednesday applauded the Supreme Court’s decision. 

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“I am proud to report the U.S. Supreme Court has now blocked a lower court’s order allowing the fraudulent practice of curbside voting in the State of Alabama,” Merrill said in a statement. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have worked diligently with local election officials in all 67 counties to offer safe and secure voting methods – including through the in-person and mail-in processes. I am glad the Supreme Court has recognized our actions to expand absentee voting, while also maintaining the safeguards put into place by the state Legislature.”

“The fact that we have already shattered voter participation records with the election still being 13 days away is proof that our current voting options are easy, efficient, and accessible for all of Alabama’s voters,” Merrill continued. “Tonight’s ruling in favor of election integrity and security is once again a win for the people of Alabama.”

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, expressed frustration after the ruling in a tweet.


“Another devastating loss for voters and a blow for our team fighting to ensure safe voting for Black and disabled voters in Alabama. With no explanation, the SCOTUS allows Alabama to continue making it as hard as possible for COVID-vulnerable voters,” Ifill wrote.

Curbside voting is not explicitly banned by state law in Alabama, but Merrill has argued that because the practice is not addressed in the law, he believes it to be illegal. 

A panel of federal appeals court judges on Oct. 13 reversed parts of U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon’s Sept. 30 order ruling regarding absentee voting in the upcoming Nov. 3 elections, but the judges let the previous ruling allowing curbside voting to stand. 

In his Sept. 30 ruling, Kallon wrote that “the plaintiffs have proved that their fears are justified” and the voting provisions challenged in the lawsuit “unduly burden the fundamental Constitutional rights of Alabama’s most vulnerable voters and violate federal laws designed to protect America’s most marginalized citizens.”

Caren Short, SPLC’s senior staff attorney, in a statement said the Supreme Court’s decision has curtailed the voting rights of vulnerable Alabamians.

“Once again, the Supreme Court’s ‘shadow docket’ – where orders are issued without written explanation – has curtailed the voting rights of vulnerable citizens amidst a once-in-a-century public health crisis. After a two-week trial, a federal judge allowed counties in Alabama to implement curbside voting so that high-risk voters could avoid crowded polling locations,” Short said. “Tonight’s order prevents Alabama counties from even making that decision for themselves. Already common in states across the South and the country before 2020, curbside voting is a practice now encouraged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It should be a no-brainer to implement everywhere during a pandemic; the Alabama Secretary of State unfortunately disagrees, as does the Supreme Court of the United States.”

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SPLC files complaints in Pike County over suspension of two Black students

Both complaints, filed in Pike County Juvenile Court, ask the court to reverse suspensions of RaQuan Martin and Dakarai Pelton, both Black and former students at Goshen High School. 

Eddie Burkhalter




The Southern Poverty Law Center on Wednesday filed two complaints with an Alabama juvenile court alleging the Pike County Board of Education arbitrarily suspended two students in violation of their due process rights under the U.S. Constitution. 

“Students across Alabama continue to be excluded from school without regard for their due process rights, leading to unwarranted and unlawful suspensions and expulsions,” said Michael Tafelski, senior supervising attorney for the SPLC’s children’s rights project, in a statement. 

“This is particularly troubling for Black students who are three times more likely to be excluded from school for minor and subjective infractions than their white peers. Education is an important aspect of a young person’s life and the decision to exclude them from school should not be taken lightly,” Tafelski continued. 

Both complaints, filed in Pike County Juvenile Court, ask the court to reverse suspensions of RaQuan Martin and Dakarai Pelton, both Black and former students at Goshen High School. 

The complaints state that on Nov. 22, 2019, both students were approached by the school’s principal “in connection with alleged rumors that a group of students had ‘smoked’ that same day in the parking lot at school.” The principal alleged he had video security footage of them doing so, but wouldn’t show the students the footage, according to the complaints. 

Both boys told the principal that they had not used marijuana, but had both accompanied another student to their car in the parking lot, and both left when the other student showed them what appeared to be drug paraphernalia.

“The students, both seniors at the time, denied the allegations and even took drug tests that showed they had no drugs in their system that day. But the school refused to consider this evidence,” the SPLC said in a press release. 

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The complaints state that the district failed to provide the students proper notice, including details about their charges, evidence of wrongdoing, a meaningful opportunity to be heard or to present evidence of their own and question witnesses during their hearings. 

“Only you know what did or didn’t happen in that vehicle … you dodged a bullet here because we didn’t have the proof that we need,” said one school board member to one of the students during his hearing, according to the complaint. 

“There was no proper investigation at all,” said Shatarra Pelton, Dakarai’s mother, in a statement. “It was unorganized and overblown. The school was unable to produce any evidence other than hearsay.” 


After a brief hearing, both seniors were suspended for the rest of the school year, missing out on a chance to finish their high school athletics and potentially missing out on college football scholarships as a result, the complaints state. 

Prior to their suspensions, both students had no disciplinary referrals and were making good grades, according to the complaints. 

“On Jan. 13, the students appealed the Council’s decision to the Pike County Board of Education, and the board agreed to consider allowing the students to return to GHS if they participated in drug treatment classes, passed urine and hair follicle drug tests and maintained perfect attendance at the alternative school. After completing all the requirements, the students returned to school on Feb. 21 – three months after their removal,” the SPLC said in the release. 

“He had a rough senior year, to say the least,” said Tasha Martin, RaQuan’s mother, in a statement. “He missed senior night, he missed everything.” 

“They didn’t get to play not one game,” Martin said. “They had some coaches visit them while they were in alternative school but when the coaches found out that they couldn’t go back to school, they stopped coming. Our families were devastated; sometimes me and Ms. Pelton would be on the phone and just cry to each other. It has been really tough.”  

“I want schools to understand that it’s not just a moment you’re ruining, you’re ruining a lifetime,” Pelton said. “With no factual basis, only an unproven accusation, you have just completely deterred a student’s life. Most schools say that they are there for their students, but you are showing them the total opposite.”

Pike County Schools during the 2019-2020 school year referred 49 students to a disciplinary hearing, according to the SPLC. Of those, 48 students were either suspended or expelled, and although Black students made up less than 50 percent of the student population, Black students made up 80 percent of the referrals.  On average, Black students make up 77 percent of all students referred for disciplinary hearings in the district, according to the SPLC.

Both complaints can be read here and here.

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Biden urges Democrats to support Doug Jones

In the email, Biden asked voters to split a contribution between the Biden campaign and Jones’s campaign.

Brandon Moseley



Former Vice President Joe Biden appears at a campaign rally in Birmingham with then-candidate Doug Jones in 2017. (CHIP BROWNLEE/APR)

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Wednesday asked Democratic donors to support the re-election of U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama.

“I wanted to reach out to you about an old friend of mine: Doug Jones,” Biden said. “You might not believe this, but I met Doug more than 40 years ago, when I was a newly-minted junior senator, and he was in his early 20s, just beginning what would become one of the most impressive and dedicated careers of public service I’ve had the privilege of watching.”

“Doug has devoted his entire career to fighting for justice,” Biden said. “He’s the man who would not rest until the Klansmen who killed four young Black girls in the 1963 Birmingham church bombing were finally brought to justice. Doug has shown us, even in our darkest moments, that hope for the American promise is never lost — and what we can do when we stand united.”

In the email, Biden asked voters to split a contribution between the Biden campaign and Jones’s campaign.

“I need Doug’s help in the Senate,” Biden said. “He’s running neck-and-neck in his race in Alabama right now, and he needs our help to win.”

Biden said this election is “a battle for the soul of our country” and “few places are those stakes as clear as in Alabama.”

“I remember in 2017 when everyone counted Doug out,” Biden said. “When they thought that a message of unity would lose in a state where a long history of division still runs deep. But when I visited Alabama to help Doug, I saw what he saw – Alabama was ready to come together.”

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Biden was an early endorser of Jones in the 2017 special election, when Jones defeated former Chief Justice Roy Moore in that election. Jones returned the favor in the 2020 Democratic primary, endorsing Biden when the former vice president was having difficulty raising money and was polling well behind Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont.

Jones campaigned hard with Biden in Selma and other campaign stops across Alabama prior to Super Tuesday on March 3.

“His win gave me hope,” Biden said. “I was both honored and proud to have escorted him onto the floor of the Senate and stood behind him when he was sworn in as a United States Senator. And his record has been extraordinary – passing 22 bipartisan bills helping farmers, military families, and those devastated by natural disasters. And in perhaps the most crucial fight of all – our health care – Doug has been there again and again standing up for all of us, especially those with pre-existing conditions. Every time we needed him to stand up for us, Doug Jones was there. I’m going to need Doug’s voice in the Senate. Alabama and America will need Doug’s voice in the Senate.”


“Doug and I share a vision for a united country – one that puts faith over fear, fairness over privilege, and love over hate. And Doug, his campaign, and his career remind us that it’s a vision we can only realize if we come together,” Biden said.

In an Auburn University Montgomery poll, Biden trails Trump in Alabama by 17 points. Jones trailed former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville by 12 points. The Jones campaign claims that there has been a tightening of the race since then and it is a statistical tie. The Tuberville campaign disputes that claim.

Republican insider Perry Hooper Jr. said, “Whether it is the AUM poll, the poll, or internal polls by the (Tuberville) campaign, the margin is between 12 and 18 points in favor of Tuberville.”

The Jones campaign has been inundating the state airwaves with TV and radio ads due to the vast advantage that Jones has had fundraising. More than 82 percent of Jones’ money raised in the third quarter reporting cycle came from outside the state of Alabama.

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