By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY— Supporters of Amendment 4 that will appear on the November ballot, say the bill simply removes racist language from Alabama’s 1901 Constitution, others see a hidden agenda. Is there a clever plot, a diabolical calculation, a misunderstanding or a difference of opinion?
We recently asked Dr. Henry Mabry, Executive Secretary of the Alabama Education Association what he thought about Amendment 4.
“Amendment 4 replaces language that is for providing an education for our school children with language that says the state does not have an obligation to provide an education for our school children,” Mabry said.
Yet, the bill’s sponsor State Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) has said it only to remove racist language, something everyone should be in favor of voting to approve.
Mabry says he has a question for the Senator and those who support the amendment, “If that is the case then why did they amend their bill to take out the original section 256 language from their bill which also has racist language in it? It says, ‘Separate schools shall be provide for white and colored children and no child of either race shall be permitted to attend a school of the other race.’ I would consider that racist language. Why did the sponsor take a section of his bill that would have struck that language out of his bill than leave it. The reason why is because exactly what we are saying, that they are replacing the original Section 256 with Amendment 111 language, period.”
Opponents are saying that this maneuver was a bait-and-switch to open a back door to the amendment. But supporters have said this is the cleanest bill that was available.
Mabry disagrees with the bills supporters, “No, the original bill [before Orr amendment] was the cleanest. This bill is being supported by ALFA insurance all across the state and ALFA insurance isn’t going to be for something altruistic.”
According to Mabry, ALFA is running radio advertisements on black stations around the state encouraging African-Americans to vote yes on Amendment 4.
“For decades and decades and decades ALFA insurance has been opposed to anything progressive in Alabama. They have been against any kind of reform effort,” said Mabry. “They have been against any kind of tax reform, education reform or constitutional reform.” Mabry believes that ALFA’s support points to something more than language reform, “Something smells here.”
If Mabry is right, what is ALFA’s agenda? Is it to make sure that no more money is spent on education?
“That is exactly the case,” says Marby.
However, backers of the amendment turn it around and point a finger at the AEA, saying, the AEA is taking an offensive posture to seek more money for school and more money for teachers and the consequently more money for the AEA.
“We are in a defense posture,” said Mabry. “We don’t want to be in the position, where they make a case that education is not a responsibility of the government, that is what Amendment 111 does.”
While Amendment 111 doesn’t say anything about putting more money into school, Mabry says, “What is does say is that the state doesn’t have to provide money for schools which could certainly open the door for diversion efforts in the future.”
Some have suggested that the AEA is looking for a way to bring back the Equity Funding lawsuit, that was fought in the Alabama courts for 12 years.
However Mabry says, “Do we see this as a way to get back into the equity funding lawsuit, no but proponents would say that to try to scare people.”
Mabry says that the AEA discovered this slight of hand in Amendment 4 only in the last few weeks, the discovery led them to take a stand “in favor of pubic education.”
Recently, talk radio and detractors of the AEA have been painting the organization as being against removing racist language from the Alabama Constitution.
“That is nonsense, that is foolish nonsense and anyone who would say that needs to be examined by a psychiatric professional,” said Mabry.
Mabry says he believes Amendment 4 “opens the door to give public school money to private outfits. It is pretty clear.”
He then quotes the amendments, “The Original 256 says, ‘The legislature shall establish, organize, and maintain a liberal system of public schools throughout the state for the benefit of the children thereof between the ages of seven and twenty-one years.’ The bottom line comes down to that first sentence. What 111 does to amend what I just read?, again he quotes Amendment 111, ‘The legislature may by law provide for or authorize the establishment and operation of schools by such persons, agencies or municipalities, at such places, and upon such conditions as it may prescribe, and for the grant or loan of public funds and the lease, sale or donation of real or personal property to or for the benefit of citizens of the state for educational purposes under such circumstances and upon such conditions as it shall prescribe.’ So, in reality, they talk about vouchers, and charter school, this is one avenue to allow them to get to this goal.”
Amendment 4 is being promoted as a bill that is designed to remove racist language from the Alabama Constitution. Mabry says it is “wallpaper to cover over the real intentions of legislators.”
Many more reports may need to be written before a clear picture will fully emerge, but the voters need to know all the facts and not just the summary that appears on the November ballot.