By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
As legislators prepare to return to Montgomery next week for the 2013 Legislative Session, one of the biggest issues we will address will be public education.
Last week, Republicans in the state legislature announced their legislative agenda for this year. Their only education proposal was a school flexibility bill that would allow local school systems to seek waivers on state statues, policies, and regulations governing our schools.
At first glance, this legislation seems like a good idea. Give the teachers and school administrators more freedom to manage their classrooms. After all, they know better than the folks in Montgomery how to do their jobs, and what works in one school system might cause more harm than good in another school system.
But there are problems with this proposal. The flexibility bill that the Republicans in Montgomery are proposing has no oversight or appeals process, and there are virtually no limits on what statutes can be waived. This could lead to several problems. For example, local school boards could remove requirements that teachers be certified. This could lead to people who are unqualified or not trained educators getting teaching jobs.
There is also no oversight or appeals process to put a check on the state school board’s decisions to waive a policy or regulation. If parents or school administrators want to challenge the board’s decision, they would have to go to court, which is costly, slow, and would clog up our already backed-up judicial system.
Granting educators more freedom to manage their classrooms is a good idea. But we have to be reasonable in how we go about it and be sure not to allow a school system to get a waiver for a policy or regulation that is there to protect our children and school faculty.
We must also look beyond school flexibility if we are going to improve our children’s academic performance.
We can start by instituting a recruitment and retention program to encourage young people to become teachers and to incentivize the best teachers to stay in our schools. Currently, Alabama does not have any program in place for teacher recruitment and retention.
As a part of the recruitment and retention effort, we need to pass a long-overdue cost-of-living pay increase for teachers and support personnel. Without a pay increase, we may loose some of our best educators to our neighboring states like Mississippi, which offers a better starting salary than Alabama.
We also need to bring the resources of the Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative program (AMSTI) to every school system in the state. The AMSTI program has been proven to improve students’ scores in math and science. Yet this highly successful program is only offered in a limited number of public schools in Alabama. We need to make this program and its resources available to every school system in Alabama so that all of our children can benefit from it.
We also need to invest in our children’s education by increasing teachers’ per diem so that they can buy the classroom supplies they need, and by making sure that every student has access to current technology and updated textbooks.
Our children are Alabama’s future leaders, business owners, and employees. The decisions we make this year will affect an entire generation of Alabamians, and we cannot fail them! We need to invest in our children’s education for their future andours.
Representative Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden. He has served in the Alabama House of Representatives since 2000. In 2010, Representative Ford was elected House Minority Leader by the House Democratic Caucus. He was re-elected Minority Leader in 2012.