By Thomas Scovill
On September 18 voters approved tapping the Alabama Trust Fund for $437 million over three years to support the General Fund. Many of the voters were government education workers and many of those were encouraged to vote yes by their bosses. Some of that encouragement may have been impermissible.
For example, Limestone County Superintendent Tom Sisk (an unelected school employee) used the school email system to encourage his employees to vote and campaign for the passage of Constitutional Amendment 1 on September 18. I have inserted the text of his message at the bottom of this article.
Sisk wrote “If Amendment 1 passes, the dedicated people … who comprise the Alabama public school system are more likely in the future to see a well deserved and long overdue increase in compensation.”
Sisk also wrote “Go vote on September 18th. Explain Amendment 1 to your friends and family members. Get them to go vote on September 18th. Most Alabamians who support public schools can be found next Friday (September 14th)
The amendment was approved. And ten days later Alabama state school Superintendent Tommy Bice announced he has included funding for a one percent pay raise in his next budget, fiscal year 2014.
In Limestone County government school workers did as bidden and their reward is on the way.
1. AL.com article on pay raise: http://blog.al.com/wire/2012/09/alabama_schools_chief_tommy_bi.html
2. Message sent by Superintendent Sisk (emphasis added):
From: “Tom Sisk” [email protected] To: REDACTED Date: Mon, 10 Sep 2012 16:04:15 -0500 Subject: September 18th Referendum
On Tuesday, September 18th, Alabama will conduct a special state wide election to consider a referendum known as Amendment 1. Amendment 1 will be a “yes or no” vote. If the majority of voters approve Amendment 1, the State will be granted constitutional permission to borrow $437 million dollars from the Alabama Trust Fund. The Alabama Trust Fund is a state fund that receives royalties from companies that are involved in the off shore drilling for oil and natural gas. The Alabama Trust Fund currently has a balance of $2.3 billion dollars. Amendment 1 provides the State 14 years for the borrowed funds to be repaid to the Alabama Trust Fund.
The $437 million will be used over the next three fiscal years to provide revenue to the State’s General Fund. The State’s General Fund has diminished annually since 2008. Medicaid, prisons, and the Alabama court system are all funded through the State’s General Fund and all are struggling greatly.
How does Amendment 1 affect school districts? Our state will not and cannot stop the services provided by Medicaid, prisons, and courts. All three of these areas have received significant cuts in funding for 5 consecutive years and cannot withstand additional cuts. If Amendment 1 fails to pass, the State will have two choices: increase taxes or shift money from the Education Trust Fund. It does not take Nostradamus to see which of these two options would likely become a reality.
Therefore, if Amendment 1 fails to pass, current levels of state funding to local school districts will be jeopardized. Decreases in state funding will force all of Alabama’s public school districts to make many very difficult and unavoidable decisions. If Amendment 1 passes, the dedicated people (certified and support) who comprise the Alabama public school system are more likely in the future to see a well deserved and long overdue increase in compensation.
What can you do? Go vote on September 18th. Explain Amendment 1 to your friends and family members. Get them to go vote on September 18th. Most Alabamians who support public schools can be found next Friday (September 14th) at their local high school football game. This would be an ideal venue to encourage voters to support Amendment 1.
Join me at the polls Sept. 18th in support of this amendment.
Opinion | COVID-19 has changed our state’s industry and workforce landscape, our goal remains the same
The human toll of COVID-19 is unprecedented in Alabama, and businesses of all sizes have taken a shellacking due to the pandemic. As such, our tactical focus for workforce development has transitioned from filling positions in the tight labor market we enjoyed in February to pandemic response, incumbent worker training and dislocated worker training today. The future of work has accelerated ten years in three months.
The Alabama Workforce Council (AWC) is working with the Ivey Administration and partners across the state to share best practices, key facts and resources for employers, employees and those who have been recently unemployed.
While the immediate focus of our efforts has transitioned to workforce recovery and response efforts to COVID-19 through our work with informational webinars, workforce recovery surveys, and resources for businesses (all available online), the AWC and AlabamaWorks remain steadfastly committed to the Governor’s attainment goal of adding 500,000 highly-skilled workers to Alabama’s economy by 2025. Notably, in these uncertain times, this goal has not changed.
Creating a highly-skilled workforce and resilient economy, even one that will be recovering for the foreseeable future, is necessary for Alabama’s economic vitality. For those who have become unemployed or underemployed due to COVID-19, reskilling or upskilling now can lead to sustainable in-demand career pathways that produce measurable benefits in the future.
Success Plus, the formal name for the Governor’s postsecondary education attainment goal, outlines the need to add an additional 500,000 Alabamians prepared for in-demand, high-wage careers to the workforce by obtaining credentials, certificates or degrees in addition to a high school diploma by 2025. Moremust be done to create stackable pathways that allow individuals to earn credentials through career-specific education and shorter-term programs that prepare them for immediate employment and future advancement.
To this end, Alabama has established a quality-assurance process for credentials through the Alabama Committee on Credentialing and Career Pathways (ACCCP). The ACCCP is tasked with identifying in-demand occupations in Alabama, developing competency models and career pathways for each of the in-demand occupations, and identifying related credentials of value associated with each of the in-demand occupations.
Additionally, on June 8the Alabama Workforce Council will launch the Governor’s Survey of Employer Competencies,which will survey employers in each sector and region of the state to assist the ACCCP with identifying these in-demand occupations as well as the related competencies and credentials of value aligned to those occupations.
The survey will be conducted between June 8 and June 15, 2020 and, going forward, the survey will be conducted annually to assist the ACCCP’s 16 Technical Advisory Committees (TACs) with their work oflinking credentials of value to one or more specific competencies needed for a job. Ultimately, this will allow employers to create competency-based job descriptions that list the specific skills required for a job, rather than using associate or bachelor’s degrees as placeholders. Therefore, it is vital that employers of all sizes, and from each industry sector, provide responses to the survey. The TACs will receive the results of the Governor’s Survey of Employer Competencies at the June 17, 2020 ACCCP meeting.
It is clear that much work remains to be done. COVID-19 adds challenges to our ultimate goal, but the Alabama Workforce Council and AlabamaWorks knows that – regardless of the pandemic – clearly identifying in-demand jobs, with their related skills, and facilitating more opportunities for high-skill, high-wage careers is now more important than ever.
To learn more about the Alabama Workforce Council’s response to COVID-19 and to learn more about Governor Ivey’s vision for creating 500,000 highly skilled workers by 2025, visit www.alabamaworks.com.
Tim McCartney, formerly of McCartney Construction in Gadsden, is the chairman of the Alabama Workforce Council.
Opinion | It’s past time to turn the page on racism, racial violence in America
On June 10, 1963, President John F. Kennedy sent National Guard troops to accompany the first black students admitted to the University of Alabama.
In an address to the nation, he said, “It is not enough to pin the blame on others, to say this is a problem of one section of the country or another, or deplore the fact that we face. A great change is at hand, and our task, our obligation, is to make that revolution, that change, peaceful and constructive for all. Those who do nothing are inviting shame as well as violence. Those who act boldly are recognizing right as well as reality.”
Sixty years later, that task is still at hand. The job is still far from done. And more and more often, it even seems like we’re losing ground. It has sure seemed that way this week and, indeed, over the last few months.
We’ve been through this before.
Ahmaud Arbery is not the first African American to be ambushed and murdered by men claiming to be protecting their neighborhood, simply because he seemed out of place. And it’s not the first case of such a murder being swept under the rug.
Breonna Taylor is not the first African American to be killed in their own home by police searching for a suspect who wasn’t there.
Christian Cooper is not the first African American to have the cops capriciously called on him and be falsely accused of menacing a white woman.
And the latest tragic miscarriage of justice, George Floyd is not the first African American to be brutally assaulted and killed at the hands of police officers. And his violent death is not the first to be videotaped and broadcast across the internet, social media, and television. The question is: how do we make it the last? How do we ensure his death and our anger isn’t in vain?
For too many of us, institutional racism is a fact of daily life. And when the system begins to crack and crumble under the strain of decades of injustice and inequality, only then do we say ‘enough is enough.’ Only then do we go through the same cycle we’re going through right now. Anger is warranted, but it’s not enough to get enraged, despondent, frustrated, and mad. It’s not enough to protest. It’s not enough to lash out. And it will never be enough until we begin to act to change the underlying and lingering conditions that make racism a reality – that makes it part of the American experience.
If you think the system is already working fairly for all people, I ask: by whose standards? Not mine. Our laws, our leaders, and our system of government were never intended to be stagnant.
If you find it acceptable to try to turn victims into suspects, looking for any way possible to justify ruthless behavior, I ask: for every instance of injustice recorded, how many more have gone unreported? The answer is too many to count. What accusations would have been dug up and leveled then? We will never know. After all, it’s much easier to defame someone who’s not alive to defend themselves.
Of course, we won’t all agree on the best course of action, but I hope we can all agree that the status quo cannot continue and that action is required. That’s all the more reason we need to start talking. And to those who don’t want to have this conversation, who may feel uncomfortable or embarrassed, let’s not give them a choice. Let’s make it an issue. Let’s prioritize recognizing right and reality instead of inviting shame and violence. Let’s start today and not stop until we succeed.
We simply cannot allow this to be another situation where we shout, we scream, we cry, and then we clean up and move on to only do it all over again down the road. What will this week’s protests lead to next week or next month or next year? Starting now, we must have this conversation at every ballot box at every election – municipal, state, congressional, and so on. If you want your voice heard, presidential cycles are fine, but real, actionable change begins at the local level. Mayors and city councils appoint police chiefs. We elect District Attorneys, Sheriffs, Legislators, Judges, and Coroners. State Representatives and Senators make laws but law enforcement applies them. We all have a role to play in righting the wrongs by revisiting outdated and close-minded policies that continue to plague communities across our state and replacing them with a new vision.
Similarly, when I look at my young son, I wonder how I’m going to have the conversation with him. What am I going to say during “the talk” that black parents have, for generations now, had to have with their children? And how am I going to say it? How am I going to teach my son to protect himself? What are you telling your children?
In Alabama, we must come to terms with our legacy of racism and commit to eradicating injustice or we will never escape this cycle. As a policymaker and leader in this state, I cannot tell my son or anyone that we’ve fully turned the page on our dark and violent past. But I can tell you what needs to be done. Change starts with commitment. Individuals must resolve to break this cycle and then influence their own neighborhoods and communities to do better. It continues with conversations among people of diverse backgrounds, seeking to understand each other and treat each other with equality, decency, and dignity as human beings. It becomes reality when together we take our values to the ballot box and hold our leaders accountable to enact policies that ensure justice for all.
I invite and I welcome all Alabamians to join me in the task as an obligation to each other and to ourselves. Together, let’s continue this work. And at the very least, let’s each reflect on the words of President Kennedy so many years ago, “We are confronted primarily with a moral
issue. It is as old as the scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution . . . I hope that every American, regardless of where he lives, will stop and examine his conscience about this and other related incidents.”
Opinion | To close the homework gap in our schools, let’s close the partisan divide in Washington
As Alabama shut down its schools on March 16thand moved classes online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was saddened but not surprised when many Gulf Shores students told me they didn’t have broadband at home needed for their coursework.
Having headed school systems in Piedmont, Huntsville and now in Gulf Shores’ first year as an independent district, I am passionate about closing the digital divide. At Gulf Shores, I gave 6ththrough 12th graders computers to take home early in this school year. Kindergarteners through fifth graders had assigned devices at school. As we shuttered the schools, we ordered 100 mobile hotspots for our students to access the Internet.
But schools can’t – and shouldn’t have to – close opportunity gaps all by themselves. The crisis that has closed our schools has created a rare opportunity for national leaders to close the digital divide and homework gap through the next economic stimulus.
With schools closed, the digital divide looks more like a socioeconomic chasm. More than a quarter of Alabama’s population are not online at home. As a math teacher by training, I believe in using data to analyze problems like the digital divide, which comprises two challenges – adoption and availability.
Adoption is the greater problem – about 25 percentof American households with broadband access in their neighborhood haven’t even subscribed to it. The major barriers to adoption appear to be households not having basic computer hardware, digital literacy or an understanding of the internet’s importance to their lives.
But, while 95 percent of Americans have access to high-speed fixed broadband, about 22 percent of rural households don’t. And, because of problems with availability and adoption, over 30 percent of African American and Latino youngsters didn’t have home internet and nearly half don’t have a laptop or computer at home.
For the sake of our students and their families, we need all hands-on-deck – educators, broadband providers, computer companies and tech leaders – to address the challenge.
With broadband deployment, we need a process driven by public spiritedness, not political patronage. The best companies and technologies should compete to serve every community from isolated rural areas to the inner cities.
Let’s learn from the 2009 stimulus: Legislators and lobbyists funneled funds to favored companies and technologies. The results of that anticompetitive practice? Just what one would think: Duplicative networks in areas where broadband was already available, with billions of dollars squandered, while many communities remained without service.
I’m skeptical of one-size-fits-all solutions. Wireless hotspots can close homework gaps in some communities. But elsewhere, wired connectionsmay be more cost effective and less expensive with faster download speeds for e-learning.
And we also need to regulate broadband intelligently. This crisis is a teaching moment. U.S. broadband has risen to the challenge of a 34 percentsurge in internet demand during COVID-19. But, in Europe, over-regulated networks are slowing down.
Why? While Europe regulated broadband as a utility, and investment suffered, the U.S. opted for a “light touch” approach that encouraged nearly $2 trillion in private investment. Our wise policy choices built robust networks that we can rely upon in these difficult times—and to rebuild our economy for better times.
To achieve what’s needed, Congress needs a bipartisan compromise, including an end to anti-competitive practices that exclude qualified providers and technologies—and an effort by broadband and computer equipment companies to help attack the divide.
We have a job to do, and no time to waste.
Alabama’s Senators – Doug Jones and Richard Shelby – are well-prepared to reach across the aisle to form bipartisan consensus. Broadband providers are providing free and discounted broadband to low income homes. But everyone needs to step up.
I wish Congress could have watched our students in the Piedmont schools after we provided them with computers and connectivity. Many mastered subjects such as advanced algebra they had previously struggled with because they couldn’t do homework online.
When our leaders in Washington bridge their partisan divide, communities across Alabama and America will bridge their digital divides. And many more students will bridge the gap between their performance and their potential.
Dr. Matt Akin is the Superintendent of Schools in Gulf Shores, Alabama, having held similar positions in Huntsville and Piedmont.
Opinion | Secretary of State responds to Alabama Political Reporter op-ed
The following statement from Secretary of State John H. Merrill is in response to the inaccurate op-ed published yesterday morning by Josh Moon of Alabama Political Reporter:
This morning, Josh Moon of Alabama Political Reporter alleged that “voting by mail does not lead to fraud.”
Moon went on to undermine the six voter fraud convictions and the five associated with tampering with absentee ballots in the last five years, claiming that these numbers are not substantial enough to have basis.
Let’s start with the facts, Josh.
When you have one person that violates the trust and confidence in the elections process by committing illegal activity, that is one too many. Whether you have one voter fraud conviction or a thousand, you are proving to the electorate that elections require integrity and credibility! We will continue to work to build trust and confidence in the elections process.
Claiming “you can’t commit enough fraud to alter the outcome of such a race” is naive and careless.
In 2018, we saw a member of the legislature who won her race by a mere six votes and another member who won his race by 28 votes. That same year, we witnessed a sheriff’s race that was tied even after the recount. It should be apparent to anyone that just a few votes can determine the outcome of an election.
The fraudulent practice of ballot harvesting, which is often associated with voting by mail, led to the defeat of seven Republican candidates in the California 2018 midterm election. Young Kim, who ran to represent California’s 39th Congressional District, was leading the vote count on election night and even in the week that followed the election. Two weeks later and after Kim attended New Member Orientation, the Democrat challenger was declared the winner after 11,000 mail ballots were counted. These ballots favored the Democrat challenger at a much higher rate than the previously counted ballots.
Similarly, during the 2018 Election Cycle, the North Carolina Board of Elections appropriately refused to certify the results of the 9th Congressional District’s election due to the illegal misuse of absentee ballots.
It has also been reported, through data collected by the Election Assistance Commission, that between 2012 and 2018, 28.3 million mail-in ballots went unaccounted for, which equates to one in five of all absentee or mail-in ballots.
So, obviously, Josh, you can commit enough fraud to alter the outcome of an election.
The issues with mail-in voting far exceed the few that Josh attempts to raise. Consider Nevada where thousands of absentee ballots were just sent to inactive voters in Clark County. Consider the thousands of envelopes piling up in post offices or outside homes, apartments, and other facilities. Consider California in 2016 where 83 ballots were sent to one address housing just two people.
Then, Josh, after you have considered Alabama where in 2016, 109 absentee ballots were sent to the mother of a mayoral candidate in Brighton or when 119 absentee ballots were mailed to an abandoned home in Wilcox County, tell me that mail-in voting does not increase the likelihood for fraud to be committed.
To then pretend “small-town races” in Dothan, which is Alabama’s seventh largest municipality out of 463, are not worthy of being noted is ludicrous.
The state’s absentee law requiring a photo ID to be submitted with the application, which I remind you was passed last year with bipartisan support and sponsored, at our request, by Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham), has worked to prevent these sorts of opportunities in our state. This comprehensive, reform legislation has provided safeguards in our absentee process.
One major consideration that many supporters of mail-in voting fail to mention is cost. Currently, the administration for one Election Cycle (Primary, Runoff, and General) in our state is $16.5 million, whereas the administration of a full mail-in Election Cycle is almost $60 million.
I am positive that even Josh Moon can find a better way to spend $43.5 million generated by taxpayers.
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Computer issue causes under-reporting of Alabama COVID-19 cases
Huntsville police chief: Protesters “brought this on themselves”
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Opinion | Being silent is being complicit
Marshall says Moody officer’s death was not related to unrest
Chris Elliott selected for national 2020 Emerging Legislative Leaders Program
Byrne opposes Trump plan to use U.S. military to stop unrest
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Alabama health officer: Numbers “are not headed in the right direction”
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