By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
Education should not be a partisan issue. We should always do what is in our children’s best interests. I believe strongly in working with the business community to develop curriculums that prepare our children not just for a college education, but also for entering the workforce.
Last week’s announcement of the new Business Education Alliance (BEA) brings this idea to the center of the debate on how best to support and improve Alabama’s public schools. I agree that schools and businesses need to work together. But it is troubling to see that the new BEA is supported and being run by those who have not always been fully committed to public education.
Former Rep. Jay Love, a Republican from Montgomery, resigned mid-way through his term in the legislature to take a position as the BEA’s new Chairman of Finance. It bothers me that Rep. Love and so many other Republican legislators are resigning before the end of their terms of office. The voters elected Rep. Love to serve a full term, and his decision to quit three-fourths of the way through means the taxpayers will have to pay for a costly special election to fill his seat for the final year of his term.
But the reason Rep. Love gave for quitting is also hard to understand. Rep. Love said he quit the legislature so that he could “continue working to reform education from the private sector”. But as chairman of the education budget committee, Rep. Love was in a much better position to influence education policies and the quality of our schools than he can ever be as a fundraiser for a private organization.
But let’s consider what the BEA will be advocating for. I agree with the BEA in that the state should do more to support our pre-k program, as well as the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative, the Alabama Reading Initiative, the ACCESS Distance Learning program and Advanced Placement. But I strongly disagree with the BEA’s hardened support of the Alabama Accountability Act and of charter schools.
The Accountability Act abandons our public schools under the false premise of giving children in struggling schools a choice in where they go to school. In reality, only eight schools in Alabama have agreed to accept these students – eight out of nearly 1,500 schools in our state. Furthermore, the Accountability Act is redirecting $50 million away from our public schools this year alone! And there is nothing in the Accountability Act that helps the children in struggling schools that are not able to transfer to a different public or private school, which Rep. Love estimated would be almost 90 percent of the children in the so-called “failing schools.”
I also disagree with the BEA’s support of charter schools. In other states, charter schools have consistently proven unsuccessful. For every charter school that performs better on testing than a traditional public school, there are two more charter schools that fail.
Charter schools have also led to the loss of thousands of teachers in public schools, which only leads to more overcrowding of classrooms and a further decline in performance among struggling schools.
Every child in Alabama deserves a quality public education. That is something that Democrats and Republicans agree on. But we should be focused on our children’s needs and doing what is right for them, not gambling on bad education policies that have proven to be failures in other states. Education reform should not be a partisan issue. It should be done by getting input from the business community AND from the teachers in the classroom. The only way forward is if Democrats and Republicans work together to create policies that give our children the best chance for a brighter future.
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.