By House Minority Leader Craig Ford
If there was any doubt before as to whether the Alabama Republican Party and the Republicans in the Alabama Legislature are waging a war on public education, those doubts have been put to rest now.
Last week, the Alabama Republican Party announced that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker would be the Party’s keynote speaker at their summer dinner in Montgomery this August.
Walker has made headlines across the country for his anti-education agenda and his fight with educators’ professional association.
And it makes sense that the Republican Supermajority in Montgomery would jump at the chance to have Walker be their keynote speaker. Like Walker, the Republican Supermajority in Montgomery has waged a war on educators’ professional associations.
This year, the Republicans in Montgomery passed legislation that created a new and unnecessary $5 million expenditure to provide educators with liability insurance, even though most educators already get liability coverage through AEA and their local school boards.
Democrats offered several amendments that would have instead allocated that $5 million for things like textbooks, metal detectors and school resource officers. But Republicans in the Alabama House of Representatives voted all of these proposals down.
And isn’t it funny that the same people who talk about the need to “right-size” government, and how the private sector can do things better than the government, are now the same people creating a new $5 million government spending program to provide insurance that isn’t needed to people who already get it from the private sector?
The only reason Republicans offered this new expenditure is because they wanted to try to take away one of the reasons educators join professional associations like AEA.
And liability insurance was not the only assault on AEA. Republicans also passed legislation to remove AEA’s presence from the Teachers’ Retirement System Board of Directors under the premise of wanting to increase higher education’s presence on the board. But if that were truly the reason, then there would not have been any need to remove AEA. All they needed to do was create two new board positions for higher education.
But Walker and Alabama Republicans’ opposition to public education goes much deeper than just their war with the educators’ professional associations.
Both Scott Walker and Alabama Republicans have spent the past three years cutting funding for our schools and undermining the advances our schools have been making.
In Wisconsin, Walker cut $1.6 billion from education in last year’s budget while increasing spending on vouchers to private schools by $300 million. And, just as in Alabama, Walker’s cuts hit the struggling schools much harder than affluent schools, with high-poverty districts losing just over $700 per-student while more affluent districts lost around $318.70 per student.
Like Walker, the Republican Supermajority in the Alabama legislature has also chosen to disinvest in Alabama’s schools and educators.
It started two years ago when Republicans shut down the DROP program that kept experienced educators in the classroom and cut educators pay by 2.5 percent. This year, Republicans tried to mitigate some of the political damage from these cuts by giving some educators back 2 percent of the 2.5 percent the Republicans took.
After the Republicans finished going after the educators and AEA, the Republican Supermajority turned their sights on the schools themselves. And it all culminated this year when the Republicans passed the Accountability Act.
The Accountability Act is so flawed and controversial that Republicans had to pass it by abusing the legislative process and forcing it through the legislature with back-room deals and bait-and-switch tactics. Legislators had only one hour to read the bill and ask questions, and we still do not have any idea how much this new voucher program is going to cost.
But what we do know is that the Republicans diverted $50 million from our public schools for this new voucher program. Every single school in the state – regardless of how successful or high-performing they are – is losing money because of the Accountability Act.
The struggling schools will lose even more funding if students leave and take those tax dollars with them. And Republican legislative leaders have estimated that even with these vouchers, 90 percent of students in “failing schools” will not transfer to a “non-failing” school, which means these students are getting left behind.
So it makes sense that Alabama Republicans would embrace Scott Walker. They have already embraced his radical, anti-education agenda.
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.