By Beth Clayton
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY– Members of the Senate Democratic Caucus held a press conference today to denounce Governor Bentley’s executive amendment to HB658, a bill that would change certain provisions of the Alabama Accountability Act.
The governor’s executive amendment would delay implementation of the Accountability Act until the 2015–2016 academic year. The governor says that delaying implementation gives schools classified as “failing” time to improve, as well as provides time to pay back portions of the Rainy Day Account in the Education Trust Fund.
During the press conference, Senate Democrats urged for a repeal of the Accountability Act. Senators Billy Beasley (D-Clayton), Quentin Ross (D-Montgomery) and Hank Sanders (D-Selma) expressed their concerns over the governor’s executive amendment and the bill as a whole.
“You can’t fix a bad bill. The only way to do anything to help the children in the state of Alabama and help education in Alabama is for the governor to repeal this bill,” said Beasley.
Sanders said that none of the proposed solutions make anything better.
The Alabama Accountability Act, HB84, was passed on February 28. Since then, the legislature has attempted to reform the bill through HB658, and the governor has made additional changes through executive amendments to HB658.
“What we’ve seen are attempts to go back and correct something that should have never been done,” said Ross.
Ross also supported repealing the Accountability Act, and allowing the Department of Education to help failing schools through their own methods, which they “begged them to do before this legislation was even passed,” he said.
“Now [the governor] has seen the light, and he wants to do something about HB84. But when he stood at this podium on February 28, he told the people of the State of Alabama, and he told the minority, that we should get over it,” Ross said.
Sanders said that he believes “the governor’s decision to delay it is an admission that it’s bad for the people of Alabama.”
The Accountability Act was passed as a substitute from a joint conference committee meeting. The bill entered the committee as an eight-page piece of legislation, and emerged from the joint conference committee as a 28-page bill. Upon returning from the joint conference committee, the bill was immediately passed before many legislators had a chance to review the changes.
After the bill passed, the governor and the republican leadership of the House and Senate held a press conference, at which the governor said “anyone who knew about the piece of legislation probably would have opposed it,” Ross says.
Ross pointed out that it took 64 days after the governor signed HB84 into law to to call on the legislature to delay the implementation of HB84.
Beasley suggested that the governor’s motives could be political, but that he hoped they aren’t. “I hope the decisions he’s making are in the best interests of the children,” he said.
“It’s interesting that it comes at a time when the 2014 election is right around the corner. And so I dont know whether the governor is asking the people of Alabama to forget his lack of leadership when he signed this bad piece of legislation. I dont know what his intentions are, but he’s had opportunity after opportunity to be concerned about the budgets, to be concerned about our payback provisions and that didn’t happen,” Ross said.
The governor has cited the opportunity to repay part of the the money owed to the Education Trust Fund as a reason to postpone implementation of the bill.
“If this amendment passes, I think the governor should amend the education budget. they allocated $40 million. Anybody who is familiar with this bill and familiar with the process knows that $40 million was not enough…You could take that $40 million, you could give the teachers another one percent pay raise. You could take the balance of it, which I think would be $6 million, and put part of it on school books and part of it with public television on the children’s programs, which a couple hundred thousand children participate in each year,” Sanders says.
Regardless of the Senate Democrats’ positions on the governor’s executive amendments, Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) has said that he will not even bring the amended bill to a vote on Monday.
Bentley says he is continuing to work with leadership to determine the best way to move forward and get his amendments approved.
HASHTAGS: Accountability Act, Alabama, Education, AEA, HB84, HB658, Governor Bentley, Robert Bentley, Del Marsh, Hank Sanders, Quentin Ross, Billy Beasley, proposed changes, executive amendment