By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
It’s politics 101. You don’t make promises you can’t keep or lead people on to think you might do something you know you will not be able to do.
But that is exactly what Gov. Bentley did to educators this year.
At the start of the year, Gov. Bentley proposed a 2.5 percent pay raise for teachers and support personnel. Newspaper headlines read, “Gov. Bentley uses State of the State Address to promise teacher raises.” The governor made it clear that he and the legislature would provide educators with their first cost-of-living pay increase since 2008.
But the governor didn’t stop there. Two months later, Gov. Bentley told the press that he would veto any budget passed by the legislature if it did not include a pay raise and fully funded educators’ health benefits.
The legislature called the governor’s bluff and passed a budget that funded the healthcare benefits, but did not include the promised pay raise.
The governor took one week to consider his options, and then chose to break his promise and sign the budget without the raise.
As he signed it, the governor once again gave educators false hope by suggesting he might call a special legislative session to pass a mid-year raise. His exact words were, “I will keep a close watch on incoming revenues over the next few months, and will consider asking the Legislature to support a mid-year pay raise for teachers and support personnel if the revenues are there to support it.”
To no one’s surprise, this week Gov. Bentley told the press that revenues were coming up short and we probably will not have a special session to consider the raises.
At this point, it’s not even about the money. I think most educators would just be happy not to be lied to and led on anymore.
It’s no secret that our public schools have been under attack ever since the Republican Supermajority took control of the legislature. Rather than giving pay increases, Republican legislators cut educators, state employees and retirees’ pay. As educators retired, Republican leaders in the Legislature refused to replace them, leading to larger class sizes and less one-on-one time between students and their teachers.
Gov. Bentley and our Republican legislative leaders call this “right-sizing government.” Funny how “right-sizing” government is wrong-sizing our classrooms and negatively impacting our children’s education.
There have been so many other assaults on educators and our schools, that there simply isn’t enough room in this column to discuss them all. But, of course, one of the most significant was the Accountability Act-not just because it continues to take millions of dollars out of our schools without giving students the choices they were promised, but because it also sends a message that some schools can’t be fixed and the only solution is to ship out a select few and let the others continue to suffer.
What kind of message is that to send to our kids?
It’s not just the policies; it’s the mentality of our state leaders. Our legislature is more interested in playing partisan political games and getting revenge on AEA than they are in doing what is best for our children. Even the governor has twice this year made promises he knew how couldn’t keep to our educators. He made these promises because this is an election year and he wanted to get back the support of the educators who were so critical to getting him elected in the first place.
Instead of abandoning our schools and misleading our educators, we should be working to help struggling students and schools and treating our teachers, support personnel and school administrators like the professionals they are.
Alabama deserves so much more from our state leaders. We can’t afford four more years of broken promises, misleading statements, and, above all, assaults on our children’s education.
Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.