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Education Matters

Education Matters
By Larry Lee

Hell froze over.

That’s the only conclusion one can reach as they see our leaders in Montgomery, the same people who loudly claim how conservative they are, support legislation that would make Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid swell with pride.

These are the people who talk incessantly about “Alabama values” but turned their back on Alabama input when they came up with the Alabama Accountability Act, the most far-reaching education legislation in the state’s history.  Instead of seeking advice from Dr. Tommy Bice, state superintendent of education, and the elected members of the state board of education (six of whom are Republicans), they turned to a Washington, DC think-tank known as the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Senate leader Del Marsh told that he was not in contact with ALEC at any point when the Accountability Act was being crafted.

But thanks to the work of a class of doctorial students at Auburn University, Marsh’s statement doesn’t hold much water.  The class spent hours dissecting the bill.  More than 80 percent of the wording comes straight from model legislation cranked out by Washington.

A true conservative would not listen to Washington when there are more qualified folks in Alabama.  It would be hard to be a better representative of “Alabama values” than Dr. Bice.  The son of textile mill workers in Alexander City, he went to Auburn University before taking his first teaching job at the Talladega Institute for the Deaf & Blind.

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But obviously our legislative leadership believes folks in Washington are smarter than people in Alabama.

The Accountability Act offers other examples of how liberal thinking has taken over the Statehouse.

Conservatives don’t try to tear down traditional institutions such as public schools, which have been part of Alabama’s fabric since before we became a state in 1819.  When early communities wanted to tell the world they had “arrived,” they built churches and schools.  The first school in Clarke County had students in 1809 according to Dr. David Mathews, former president of the University of Alabama and a native of Clark County.

But the Accountability Act is more about harming public education than helping it.  How else can you describe legislation that singles out “failing schools” and then takes resources away from the very schools that need them the most?

Conservatives know that in a democracy everyone plays by the same rules–but not in the Accountability Act.  It has two sets of rules.  With public schools we point out failing schools and hold them up for all to see. But we don’t do that for private schools.  If we rank public schools and say the bottom 10 percent are failing, shouldn’t we do the same for private schools?  Maybe a liberal thinks we should have different rules for different folks—but not a conservative.

Conservatives believe that in a democracy everyone pays his fair share.  Yet the Accountability Act allows businesses to take tax dollars that would be used for education, roads and bridges, corrections and the overall common good and divert it dollar for dollar into scholarships for private schools.  Instead of repairing a road, let’s help a private school recruit a new quarterback.

Talk about liberal elitism.  It would be difficult to find a better example.

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And what makes all of this even more incredible is that the same legislators who turned to Washington for the Accountability Act screamed to high heaven that we should repeal the course standards claiming they came from Washington.

If this isn’t classic liberal doublespeak, then what is?

But it’s when you did into the details of the Accountability Act, that you really see why Nancy and Harry would be happy.

For example: I thought conservatives were against more government and more bureaucracy.   This bill increases both.  In fact, some of the money designated for scholarships for kids will be sent to the state department of education and the department of revenue to defray their costs of policing all the new regulations.

Revenue will create new rules.  ALSDE will create new rules.  Revenue will get into the education business by hiring a private, independent researcher to study private schools to see if they are up to snuff. Test results from private schools will be sent to revenue—not education.

Scholarship organizations will have to have criminal background checks on employees and board members.  Private schools will have to post bonds with scholarship groups, not to mention the bill sets up the most generous entitlement program to ever hit the state.

You just can’t put enough conservative lipstick on this pig to make it what it ain’t.

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Larry Lee led the study, Lessons Learned from Rural Schools, and is a long-time advocate for public education.  [email protected]  read his blog:

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