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Republicans in Montgomery Take One Last Jab at Public Education

By House Minority Leader Craig Ford

For the past three years, the Alabama legislature under the leadership of the Republican Supermajority has waged a war on public education in Alabama.

It started with cutting educators’ take-home pay. Next, the Republicans “dropped the DROP program” (though they waited until they could get their payout from it first).

This year, it started with the Accountability Act. Plenty has been said and will continue to be said on that one.

But last week – on the next-to-last day of the legislative session – the Republican Supermajority rammed through one last piece of legislation to take a jab at educators.

This bill, Senate Bill 303 by Senators Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa), Tom Whatley (R-Auburn), and Del Marsh (R-Anniston), would change the Board of Directors of the Teachers’ Retirement System by adding two members from higher education but removing the head of the Alabama Education Association.

Now I fully support higher education having a presence at the table. Their members participate in the system the same as other educators and should be represented on the Board that invests their money and manages their retirement accounts.

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But it was not necessary to remove AEA from the Board. All that was needed was to create two new positions on the Board for higher education.

But this is not the first time the Republican Supermajority in Montgomery has targeted the Retirement System’s Board.

During the previous two years, the Republicans in Montgomery sponsored multiple bills that would have replaced the elected members of the Board with political appointees chosen by the governor, the speaker of the state House of Representatives, and the president pro tem of the state Senate.

Thankfully, these bills did not get passed. But these bills show what the true intention of last week’s bill is: to remove AEA’s presence from the Board.

AEA represents over 100,000 educators in Alabama. Why shouldn’t these educators have their strongest voice at the table?

And it especially makes no sense to remove Dr. Henry Mabry from the Board. He served as the state’s Director of Finance for four years and was a public finance consultant for nine. He is an expert in public finance. If anyone belongs on the Board, it is Dr. Mabry.

So it is obvious that this bill was not about being better stewards of the teachers’ and education support personnel’s money. This was about the Republican Supermajority taking one last jab at AEA and educators before they go home for the rest of the year.

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In 2010, the Republicans campaigned on a platform to clean up Montgomery. But now that they have a supermajority, they have instead chosen to wage a war on public education and the educators and administrators charged with teaching our children and running our public schools.

How does the Accountability Act help a struggling school? It doesn’t. It abandons these schools.

How does “dropping the DROP program” help improve the quality of education in Alabama? It doesn’t. It kicks experienced educators out of the classroom.

How does removing Dr. Mabry and AEA from the TRS Board of Directors help our teachers or our schools? It doesn’t. It’s just one more stab at educators.

This war on public education is ridiculous! Our children deserve better. The teachers and education support personnel deserve better. The taxpayers deserve better.

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.

Craig Ford is the owner of Ford Insurance and the Gadsden Messenger. He represented Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives for 18 years.

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