By Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY–Tuesday, at the Farmers’ Market Cafe, Senator Dick Brewbaker (R-Montgomery) addressed a packed room at the meeting of the Downtown River Region Republican Lunch Club. His primary topic involved the 2013 Legislative Session, more specifically education. He said that the republicans had made great progress in education in the last two years. One example that he chose was that the cost to terminate a teacher has dropped by 98 percent.
Brewbaker then went on to explain some of the controversial education bills that passed the legislature this past session. About the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA), he said, “That bill did two things 1) it provided every local school flexibility to opt out of any state regulation they want to.” He said the second was school choice. As for school flexibility, he said that many school administrators claim that their schools are failing due to restrictive state regulations and that if the state would get out of their way, they could improve their schools. He said, “Now they can. All they have to do is submit a rational waiver and it is going to get approved and we will see if state regulations were really the incumbrance that we have been told.
Brewbaker said, “We have given more flexibility to local school superintendents than any other state in the country. They can waive anything except things that are required by federal law, health and safety regulations, they can not opt out of employment contracts but when it comes to how they run their schools “everything, literally everything, is on the table.”
About school choice, he said that it was not just failing schools that were the problem but that the biggest problem was “persistently failing’ schools. “We owe those parents. I know the bill is not perfect but no bill we pass is perfect,” said Brewbaker.
As to the cost of school choice, he cited other states who provide school choice have an average of 5 to 7 percent of students that take part in the program. So he estimates the costs will not be as overwhelming as some suggested. He said that when it comes to a parent’s decision of public versus non-public schools there is more than just academic quality that enters into the equation. He said, “Public schools have a lot of advantages over non-public schools. They will give your kid a ride to school. They will feed him twice a day. People send their kids to schools for all sorts of different reasons besides academic quality.
“Choice is a good thing. This is America, we don’t tell you what God to pray to, where to live, we don’t tell you what you have to do for a living but for some strange reason we tell you where you have to send your kids to school. That is just wrong.”
Brewbaker said of his own children that some attend public school while other attend non-public schools.
He said though that he thinks the “game changer” will be the Alabama Intervention Act that he sponsored and passed during the last ten minutes of the last day of session. This bill would allow the state board of education to intervene if a school was persistently failing. He said that Alabama schools as a whole, the top third would be comparable to any state in the country, however the bottom third were more comparable to schools in a third-world country. Until this bill, only financial bankruptcy or criminal activity on the school board would allow the state to intervene.
Brewbaker said, “The state board of education now has the authority to set aside a local school board and directly run persistently failing systems.” He said that the attitude about failing schools needs to change, “They don’t have to fail. There are poor kids all over this country that have good schools. You can’t say ‘Oh, they’re poor so they have to have bad schools.’ That is not the way it is supposed to be.” He said he thinks that parents should have access to good schools no matter their income level or geographic location.
He said that even though the AAA provided school choice, if students are in a metropolitan area they have a better chance of finding a choice. “You live out in west Alabama, there are no non-public choices.
Hopefully with this accountability bill some will be developed. There are very few. There is almost no where to go. So we have to fix those schools, that is really our only choice.” He thinks that the intervention bill will facilitate those schools being brought up to acceptable standards.
When asked about the failure of the Common Core bill during session he said, “Common Core is something that will be dealt with next year.”