By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard has told the GOP House Caucus, through his legislative council Jason Isbell, that he, “plans for House Bill 84 sponsored by Rep. Chad Fincher, to be voted favorably out of the Education Policy Committee next Wednesday.” That would be the second day of this week’s legislative session.
According to the GOP House website, “The Local Control School Flexibility Act is a very important step towards education reform in Alabama,” Rep. Fincher said. “In order for us to improve education in our state, we must encourage innovation in our schools. Innovation tailored to a school’s unique situation provides the best possible scenario to improve outcomes.”
However, the Alabama Education Association,(AEA), thinks that the School Flexibility Act is another wolf in sheep’s clothing.
In Isbell’s email to the caucus, he put forward a not-so-veiled threat to the members saying, “It will be incredibly difficult for Legislative Leadership to strongly support other education-related issues if this, the centerpiece of their Legislative agendas, fails to make it to Governor Bentley’s desk.”
Fincher writing about the bill said, “The parents and local school boards know what is best for their students – not Montgomery. This act gives them the opportunity to make those decisions.”
But according to the AEA, “House Bill 84/Senate Bill 54 is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It is being sold as giving flexibility to improve academic performance and innovation. These bills are a direct assault on decades of standards to protect students, classrooms, and the education profession.”
The bills’ language reads, “(1) FLEXIBILITY CONTRACT. A school flexibility contract between the local school system and the State Board of Education wherein a local school system may apply for programmatic flexibility or budgetary flexibility, or both, from state laws, regulations, and policies, including regulations and policies promulgated by the State Board of Education and the State Department of Education.”
Powerful Secretary of the AEA, Henry Mabry, recently told the “Montgomery Advertiser,” “the biggest priority for the association in the coming session is to defeat the school flexibility bill or amend it so it would “not cause the dismantling of public education.”
In the article Mabry also referred to the bill as a “back door” for charter schools and expressed concerns that it could adversely affect tenured teachers.
“The Advertiser” said, “The bill copies almost verbatim some of the language in last year’s charter school bill.”
While the AEA has released documents saying, “This bill opens the door for charter schools without legislative approval and wholesale privatization of any or all public school positions.” This seems to not be the biggest concern with House Bill 84 and its companion, Senate Bill 54. According to the AEA, the bills, “give[s] all local boards the ability to waive or abolish most state education polices and standards established by decades of laws passed by the Alabama with the consent of the state Board of Education.” They further state that, “If this becomes law, the majority of the school board members in any system and the approval of the state superintendent can totally disrupt the operation, protections, instruction, pay, and most all other standards now law or policy in the state of Alabama.”
The bills read as follows: “This act may not be construed to allow a local school system to compensate a current employee at an annual rate that is less than the amount the current employee would otherwise be afforded through the State Minimum Salary Schedule included in the annual Education Trust Fund Appropriations Act in force at the time. Additionally, this act may not be construed to allow a local school system to require any employee to involuntarily relinquish any rights or privileges acquired by that employee as a result of attaining tenure or non probationary status.”
In a recent opinion column in the “Alabama Political Reporter,” Senator Bill Holtzclaw, (R-Madison) wrote, “Briefly, the act establishes a formal process for local systems to seek a temporary waiver from state regulations and policies that they have identified as a hindrance to operating in innovative, flexible ways. The act requires local school systems to work with the State Board of Education as well as the State Superintendent, to jointly create a flexibility contract. A flexibility contract outlines the policy from which the school is seeking relief while maintaining academic standards that must be maintained in order to allow the flexibility.”
However, the AEA contends that the bill, “Gives power to local school boards to initiate salary freezes for any or all current teachers at the salary they are earning when their local system is given flexibility, then leaving the future of legislative raises and even step raises for experience or advanced degree in the hands of the local district.”
Holtzclaw, says that, “The overarching goal is to enable local systems to make decisions that will improve student achievement and student outcomes in their communities.”
But again the AEA sees something more nefarious, they believe that House Bill 84 and Senate Bill 54 will result in, “the greatest transfer of government power and the control of public education – from elected officials and the public – into the hands of just a few individuals.”
The first battle in the StateHouse seems to be mounting around the future of education in the state with Speaker Hubbard lining up against Henry Mabry of the AEA.