By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
The people of Alabama have given Alabama’s Democratic legislators a decided disadvantage versus Alabama’s Republicans in the Alabama Capital. That was never more apparent than Thursday, when Republicans were so dismissive of Alabama Democrats that they passed the state’s most comprehensive education reform package in history without even bothering to include 18 pages of the Alabama Accountability Act’s 27 pages in the version on the calender. Despite angry Democratic Party opposition that Act passed easily and there was nothing Democrats could do to shape it, stop it, or even slow it down. Democrats are understandably angry.
The Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus Representative Thomas Jackson from Thomasville says that the Republicans violated the state Open Meetings Law. Rep. Thomas Jackson said in a written statement, “They were supposed to meet to discuss changes to the School Flex Bill instead they left the meeting and conducted a private meeting then came back with a bill that was 3 times longer and the extra content added included nothing that corresponded with the previously passed bill.”
Rep. Christopher John England (D) from Tuscaloosa said on Facebook, “Leadership does not operate in this manner. Operating like this should undermine your faith, (if you had any before) in this entire system. Although there are 140 elected members in the Alabama Legislature, the will of a few overrode the will of the body. That essentially means that they decided that Democracy was an inconvenience to them. Therefore, they manipulated the rules to ignore you. Whether or not you support tax credits, charter schools, or anything else in this Bill, you should be outraged that the process was subverted and you were ignored. I am outraged and you should be as well.”
Rep. Joe Hubbard (D) from Montgomery said on Facebook, “Tonight, democracy died at the hands of cloak and dagger politics. The House and Senate leadership passed a bill behind closed doors that provides a tax credit give-away to rich families zoned for failing schools to subsidize the private school tuition they are already paying.”
Alabama House Minority Leader Craig Ford (D) from Gadsden said, “This is a bait and switch. The bill that came out of the conference committee was more than three times longer than the bill we passed. There is no way that happened in the thirty minutes that the conference committee met today. This bill has been sitting in someone’s desk drawer for months. It was their strategy all along to pass one version of the bill, and then come back and push this version through conference committee. The Republican leadership operated unethically, and in bad faith. But it is our children who are going to suffer because of this, and my heart breaks for them today.”
The leadership of both of the two major teachers unions in Alabama were also upset by the legislation which is expected to lead more students and dollars from unionized poor performing government schools to non-unionized private schools.
The President of the Jefferson County of the Alabama Federation of Teachers, Vi Parramore said, “This bill was passed under the cloak of darkness without any public hearings, public input or a copy of the bill available to anyone. By the time this ‘flexibility’ bill passed last night, the only flexibility was the bill’s authors’ ability to keep its anti-public schools content hidden from teachers, parents, and even other lawmakers.”
The Executive Secretary of the Alabama Education Association Henry Mabry told reporters, “We were railroaded. We were lied to. Lawmakers lied to us. The Senate pro tem lied to us. …The governor lied to us.”
The President of the Birmingham Federation of Teachers Richard Franklin said, “This is a direct assault on public schools and will do serious harm to students. It sets up voucher schools as the silver bullet, but not one credible study has shown that students do better at voucher schools.”
The bill Alabama Accountability Act would provide parents with a tax credit if they removed their child from one of the worst schools in Alabama and enrolls them in a private school. The bill also allows businesses and individuals to get tax credits for contributing to a scholarship fund for scholarships so that poor children can escape from Alabama’s worst schools. The bill also gives Alabama public school boards the freedom to apply to the state for waivers from Alabama’s school regulations in order to attempt to improve school performance. Public schools would not have to accept transfers from neighboring failing schools and the scholarships would apply only to those students whose neighborhood public schools are officially recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as being consistent poor performers or have been declared failing by the Alabama Superintendent of Education. Only the worst ten percent of Alabama schools would ever fall in to this category.