By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
Despite months of promising a pay raise for educators, it turns out all the governor’s talk was just that: more election year rhetoric.
After four years of constant assaults on our public schools, this budget and the governor’s empty promises for a pay raise are just one more attack on education from the Republican Supermajority in Montgomery.
Gov. Bentley made a commitment to educators. Not only did he promise a raise in his State of the State address, he and his staff continued to publicly make that promise throughout the legislative session.
In a March 5th article from the Birmingham News titled “Gov. Robert Bentley won’t sign education budget without 2 percent raise, health insurance funding increase,” the governor’s spokeswoman, Rebekah Mason, told the press that the governor would send the budget back to the legislature if it did not include a raise and health insurance increase.
After the session ended, the governor took over a week to decide if he would sign the budget. Now he has not only backed out of his promise to educators, but he is trying to rewrite history and claim he never made the promise to begin with.
By playing games about vetoing the budget and calling a special session of the legislature, the governor is abusing the power of his office for political gain.
The governor has led educators on for months about a pay raise, and this week he continued to do the same thing by saying he might call a special session in the summer or fall to pass a pay raise.
There is no reason to delay calling a special session other than to allow Republican legislators time to campaign in their primaries and then come back this summer to try and win back educators’ votes before the general election.
The governor is trying to protect anti-education Republican legislators in the primary elections. Because there are so many pro-education Republicans running this year, the governor did not want to force sitting representatives and senators to vote against a pay raise right before an election.
The truth is that if the governor and Republican legislators won’t stand up for educators in an election year, then there is no reason to believe that they will stand up for educators during the next four years if re-elected. And that is why, in his speech explaining why he went back on his word, the governor only recognized three Republican senators for the one time in four years that they stood up for education instead of recognizing all the legislators—Republican and Democrat—who have supported educators over the past four years.
Our children spend a third of their day at school. That time is spent with educators who are responsible for guiding them and preparing them for college and their career. Other than parents and preachers, no one has a greater impact on our children’s upbringing. If we want to recruit and keep the best and brightest educators then we have to offer competitive pay and benefits. But over the past four years, we have cut school budgets and taken resources and thousands of educators out of the classroom.
The legislature cut 2.5 percent out of their pay checks and then gave 2 percent back, leaving educators making less today than they did four years ago. But worst of all, the Republican Supermajority has cut educators out of the conversation about school reform. We are passing radical laws, like the Accountability Act, that take millions of dollars out of our schools and not a single educator—not even the state’s Superintendent of Education—were included in the conversation.
We cannot expect our schools to be successful and our educators to keep up morale if we constantly shut them out, cut their pay and deceive them with broken promises of pay raises. It is time for the governor and Republican legislators to be honest with educators and taxpayers, and stop playing political games with peoples’ income.
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.