By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
The Alabama State School Board recently gave State Superintendent Tommy Bice a massive $52,000 raise for the stellar that work he has been doing running the State’s schools.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a much different opinion of Alabama schools. On Monday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce gave the State’s public schools a failing grade of F. Alabama’s struggling public schools system joined nine other states in receiving the failing grade of F.
The Chamber broke it down into categories which they also graded. On academic achievement the chamber gave Alabama an F. The Chamber wrote: “Despite improvement since our last report, student performance in Alabama is very weak—the state ranks among the lowest in the nation. Only 20 percent of 8th graders are deemed proficient or above on the NAEP math exam. The National average is 34 percent.”
Academic Achievement for Low-Income and Minority Students in Alabama is even worse. Only six percent of African-American and Hispanic 8th grade students score at or above the proficiency level on the NAEP math exam.
On Return on Investment the State got another F grade. According to the Chamber, the student achievement in Alabama is low relative to State spending even after adjusting for cost of living.
On Truth in Advertising: Student Proficiency the Chamber gave Alabama another F. The Chamber gave Alabama very poor marks on the credibility of its student proficiency scores.
In Post-Secondary and Workforce Readiness Alabama earned yet another failing grade. Only 75 percent of students who make it to the 9th grade walk away with a diploma in four years.
Reportedly only 11 percent of students pass an advanced placement (AP) exam.
On developing a 21st Century Teacher Force, the Chamber wrote, “Alabama does an average job of creating a strong teacher workforce. The Yellowhammer State does well training teachers and providing alternative routes for teacher certification, but it does very poorly identifying and retaining effective teachers and removing ineffective ones.” The Chamber gave the State’s schools a C-.
Efforts to weaken Alabama’s tenure law have not advanced far in the State legislature.
In offering parents options, the State got another F grade. The Chamber wrote, “Alabama does a very poor job providing parents with strong school choice options. The state is one of only eight in the country with no charter school law and has limited choice options.”
In 2011, a very limited charter schools bill that passed the Alabama House was gutted in the Alabama Senate. The House never even bothered bringing the weak Senate version to a vote. In 2012, the legislature passed the Alabama Accountability Act which would give parents whose students are zoned to failing schools an option to transfer out. That remains very controversial with some educator groups claiming that it costs public schools money, even though the Accountability Act would apply to just six percent of students and then only to those who apply for it and can find a school (public or private) who is accepting transfers.
In Data Quality, the State received another F. The Chamber said that Alabama earned a failing grade in collecting and reporting high-quality education data. The Chamber also said that the State does not ensure that data can be effectively accessed and used by stakeholders.
In Technology, Alabama was awarded yet another F. The Chamber wrote, “Alabama receives a very poor grade employing technology to provide quality instruction and personalized learning. Students have limited access to high-quality digital learning options.”
Efforts by Rep. Jim McClendon (R from Springville) and Senator Gerald Dial (R from Lineville) to jump-start Alabama’s schools embrace of technology with a billion dollar bond issue to get tablet textbooks to every high school child in the State has failed in the legislature for three years in a row. There is no dedicated funding stream for technology, thus computers and tablets are part of the curriculum in suburban systems with strong local funding, while rural systems grow further and further behind in the adoption of new technology.
In International Competitiveness, Alabama received one more F. The Chamber gave the state a very low grade preparing its students to compete in a global economy. Only about 20 percent of students are proficient in reading and math compared with an international standard. Only 6 students out of 1,000 are able to pass an AP foreign language exam.
In fiscal responsibility, Alabama got a B. Two-thirds of the State’s pension is funded, and the State’s most recent pension contribution was 100 percent.
In 2012, the Republican Supermajority passed new rules requiring teachers and education employees to contribute more towards their own retirements and requiring that new hires retire at an older age than their older co-workers. The controversial actions cost Alabama teachers take home pay, but resulted in shoring up the pension plan, resulting in the high grade on the Chamber’s report card.
The U.S. Chamber of commerce wrote, “In our increasingly globalized world, an effective, first-class education is more and more critical. For businesses to compete globally and for the U.S. economy to continue to grow, access to high-quality talent and a skilled workforce is essential. While the numerous benefits of an educated society are well documented—higher earnings, reduced inequality, and improved health and well-being, to name just a few—solutions to the challenges facing business will be solved by those countries that can access the best and brightest human capital and thereby gain a competitive advantage. Failure to compete will not only exacerbate unemployment, poverty, and inequality, but it will put the nation at risk of long-term economic stagnation.”
According to the report, over the course of his or her lifetime, a high school graduate can expect to make almost $500,000 more than a high school dropout and a college graduate can expect to make about $800,000 more than a college dropout.
According to ACT only 25 percent of American students taking the ACT college admissions test produce college-ready scores in all four tested subjects (English, mathematics, reading, and science).
Alabama governor issues statewide face mask order amid COVID-19 surge
Gov. Kay Ivey’s decision came the same day the state saw its highest single-day increase in reported COVID-19 deaths and the day after the previous record.
Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday issued a statewide face mask order to begin Thursday at 5 p.m. and to remain in effect for the rest of the month.
Face masks are to be worn while in public when within six feet of another person outside of one’s own household, while outside around groups of ten or more, and inside in a public spaces and on public transposition, with exceptions, according to the order.
Ivey said there were 2,141 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, and said with continued increases in cases, deaths and hospitalizations she made the decision to require masks to be worn statewide.
There have been 1,183 deaths from COVID-19 statewide, Ivey said, and nine of the first 13 days in July saw daily case increases of more than 1,000.
Ivey said despite the best efforts, we’re seeing increased cases every day “and we are almost to the point where hospital ICUs are overwhelmed.”
Ivey has been reluctant to issue a statewide mask order in previous weeks, and has said such an order would be difficult to enforce.
“I still believe this is going to be a difficult order to enforce, and I always prefer personal responsibility over a government mandate,” Ivey said Wednesday. “And, yet, I also know with all my heart that the numbers and the data over the past few weeks is definitely trending in the wrong direction.”
Ivey said there are more drastic options to slow the spread, including a return to shutdowns, but said, “I don’t want to go there unless there are absolutely no other options available.”
Ivey’s decision came the same day the state saw its highest single-day increase in reported COVID-19 deaths and the day after the previous record. Forty deaths were reported Tuesday as having been caused by the virus, and 47 deaths were reported Wednesday.
At least 151 deaths have been reported in the last week, the most in any seven-day period since the state’s first confirmed death in late March. At least 236 have been reported in the last fourteen days, the most of any two-week period.
On Tuesday, the total number of current hospitalizations of coronavirus patients again reached another all-time high. COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased more than 61 percent since July 1. ADPH hadn’t updated COVID-19 numbers as of Wednesday morning.
The seven-day average statewide positivity rate Wednesday was roughly 16 percent, the highest since the start of the pandemic, taking into account incomplete testing data in April that threw off figures. That’s according to APR’s tracking of state data.
State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said during the press conference that a full third of the state’s cases have been added within the last two weeks.
“That’s not a reflection of testing, because our percentage of tests that are positive continues to go up. The most recent completed data, leading up to the Fourth of July showed about 14 percent of all tests are positive,” Harris said.
More than 2,000 people across the state were hospitalized for confirmed or suspected coronavirus on Wednesday, Harris said, and about 30 hospitals statewide have very limited intensive care beds availability. At least 1,477 are hospitalized with confirmed COVID-19 while 541 are under investigation.
“We really don’t have a lot of other options at this time,” Harris said. “We’re frequently asked, does the economy need to be shut down, and the answer is no. Not if people will cooperate with the orders that we have in place.”
Failing to wear a mask as per the order could result in a $500 fine and arrest, Ivey said. There are some exceptions to the mask order, including children aged six or younger, those with certain medical conditions, while eating or drinking, exercising so long as a person maintains six feet from others, while competing in athletic events and while swimming.
Prior to Ivey’s statewide order, numerous local municipalities and county governments were issuing local mask orders. Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association, said Tuesday that he’d prefer a statewide order coupled with local orders as a more effective way to convince the public to wear masks.
Beginning Monday, July 20, Walmart and Sam’s Club will require masks to be worn at stores nationwide.
“While we’re certainly not the first business to require face coverings, we know this is a simple step everyone can take for their safety and the safety of others in our facilities. According to the CDC, face coverings help decrease the spread of COVID-19, and because the virus can be spread by people who don’t have symptoms and don’t know they are infected, it’s critically important for everyone to wear a face covering in public and social distance,” said Dacona Smith, chief operating officer for Walmart U.S., and Lance de la Rosa, chief operating officer at Sam’s Club, in a blog post.
Graphics for businesses to download, print and display for customers on the mask order can be found here.
Alabama GOP chair Terry Lathan congratulates Tuberville
Former Auburn football head coach Tommy Tuberville soundly defeated former Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, on Tuesday in the Republican primary runoff. Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan issued a statement congratulating Tuberville on the victory.
“It’s great to be an Alabama Republican! Our voters have spoken and they have chosen an outstanding U.S. Senate nominee for the November 3rd General Election, Coach Tommy Tuberville,” Lathan said. “Even under difficult circumstances with the COVID-19 situation, Alabamians were deeply engaged and determined to participate in our voting process.”
With 100 percent of the boxes reporting, Tuberville won 60.74 percent compared to Sessions with 39.26 percent. Tuberville won 64 of Alabama’s 67 counties.
“Tommy Tuberville is a true Washington outsider and has gained the trust of Alabama Republican Party voters to represent them and help President Trump ‘Drain the Swamp’” Lathan continued. “He will fight for the will of the majority who have been ignored since 2017. His conservative positions on the issues and support of our president will be welcomed when he defeats Doug Jones in November. Alabama is the highest approval rated state for President Trump. The combination of Coach Tuberville and President Trump’s popularity in our state puts us in a very strong position to flip this seat back to the GOP.”
Tuberville’s win effectively ended the 27-year political career of former Attorney General Sessions. Sessions left this Senate seat in 2017 to become U.S. attorney general. Sessions was fired from that post by the man who appointed him to it, President Donald Trump, over strong disagreement with Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russian collusion scandal investigation in the 2016 election.
A still angry Trump denounced Sessions as “the biggest mistake” of his presidency and endorsed Tuberville. Sessions could never overcome the president’s disapproval with Alabama Republican voters. As recently as Saturday, Trump said of Sessions: “Washington doesn’t want him back.”
Sessions is also a former Alabama attorney general and chairman of the Alabama Republican Party.
“We are greatly appreciative of Jeff Sessions and his lifetime of commitment to conservative policy and service – not just to Alabamians but to all Americans,” Lathan said. “He is a true patriot in every sense of the word and our nation is stronger because of his willingness to take a stand on the issues and fight for the will of Alabamians. Senator Sessions has earned his place in history as a true conservative warrior.”
“We would also like to thank Secretary of State John Merrill and the election teams around the state who worked so diligently in providing heath care protection to the voters in today’s elections,” Lathan added. “Together, we are unstoppable on November 3rd. Alabamians have that date circled in red and plan to end the tenure of liberal Doug Jones. While we know a battle is ahead, his voting record will be in the spotlight – voting to impeach our president and not to seat Justice Kavanaugh, voting against building our nation’s security walls and tax cuts just to name a few. We look forward to doing to Doug Jones what he and his left wing buddies failed to do to President Trump – end his time in office.”
Tuberville in his speech came out swinging against incumbent Sen. Doug Jones, blasting him for voting to impeach Trump and for voting against Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court.
“Democrat Doug Jones is running for reelection with the slogan of One Alabama,” Tuberville said. “Well, you can make no mistake about it: what Doug really means is, One Liberal Alabama.”
Tuberville accused Jones of taking “marching orders from Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and bartender AOC.”
Tuberville thanked Trump for his support and called him: “The greatest President of my life.”
Tuberville said he will vote to defend Alabama’s Second Amendment rights: “By God, they’re not taking our guns.”
Tuberville faces stiff competition from Jones, who has raised close to $10 million to spend by Nov. 3 and was not bloodied in a primary contest.
Tuberville is an Arkansas native and a career football coach; best remembered for his tenure at Auburn University. He was also the head coach at the University of Mississippi, Cincinnati, and Texas Tech. He won a national championship as a defensive coordinator at the University of Miami.
Barry Moore wins 2nd Congressional District GOP primary runoff
With 100 percent of boxes reporting, Moore received 60 percent to Coleman’s 40 percent.
Alabama Republican voters went to the polls Tuesday and selected former State Rep. Barry Moore, R-Enterprise, as the Republican nominee for Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District. Moore defeated Dothan businessman Jeff Coleman.
“With God all things are possible,” Moore said, quoting scripture. “This was a prayerful campaign it was a grassroots campaign.
“We just wanted to run a clean race and give God the glory,” Moore continued. “At the end of the day there is a God and we are not him.”
“We spent $300 or $400,000 on our race and they spent $2 or $3 million,” Moore said. “Winning this is the easy and campaign is the part. Going to Washington and facing this issues that we face is the hard part. It is a spiritual battle for the future of America.”
Moore thanked campaign consultant Jonathan Barbee. “Jonathan I love you. You were my armor bearer in this. … This guy did not charge me hardly anything, but he and his wife were incredible,” Moore said. “It did not matter whether it was social media or driving a truck through the night to a campaign event.”
With 100 percent of boxes reporting, Moore received 60 percent to Coleman’s 40 percent.
“Barry Moore worked extremely hard and ran an outstanding campaign,” Republican Executive Committee Member Perry O. Hooper Jr. told APR. “He deserved this victory! I am mightily proud of Barry and his sweet family.”
Moore had to overcome a Republican primary field with seven other candidates, the fact that Coleman is one of the wealthiest people in Alabama and a 2014 criminal case where he was indicted for perjury but was found not guilty by a jury. He also dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, which made campaigning these past four months almost impossible, and the fact that he ran for this seat two years ago and failed to even make the Republican primary runoff.
Coleman had the support of the powerful Business Council of Alabama, of which he is a past chairman. He also was supported by the Alabama Farmers Federation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Moore had the support of two powerful D.C. super PACs, which blunted Coleman’s personal wealth advantage. Moore was supported by the House Freedom Caucus and Club for Growth.
Club for Growth PAC President David McIntosh issued a statement congratulating Barry Moore the win.
“We send our congratulations to Barry Moore for running a great campaign and look forward to supporting him through victory in the General Election so he can bring his vision for lower taxes and fewer regulations to Washington,” said Club for Growth PAC President David McIntosh.
Club for Growth Action spent $706,068 on the race, and Club for Growth members contributed $95,708 directly to Moore’s campaign through the Club for Growth PAC the group announced.
“The voters of Congressional District 2 had outstanding candidates for their open House seat,” said Alabama Republican Party Chair Terry Lathan. “I am confident their choice for nominee – Barry Moore – will go to Washington and do an exceptional job representing his district. Barry Moore has a proven conservative track record in the Alabama House of Representatives, one he will take to Washington and use to pass the Trump agenda. His love for the Second Congressional District, combined with his pattern of hard work, will be a great asset in Washington for our state.”
“We are grateful for businessman Jeff Coleman who wanted to serve in this district,” Lathan added. “Jeff’s willingness to join in this public servant position is greatly appreciated by many. His desire to help Alabama is highly commendable.”
Incumbent Republican Congresswoman Martha Roby endorsed Coleman just days before the election, but it was not enough to sway 2nd Congressional District voters.
Moore will face Democrat Phyllis Harvey-Hall in the Nov. 3 general election.
After awkward meeting, Ivey demands a new reopening plan from ALSDE
Frustrated lawmakers, including Gov. Kay Ivey, asked Alabama State Department of Education officials and board members to settle on a comprehensive plan to reopen Alabama’s public schools this fall.
Do you want the money or not? That seemed to be the big question — a question that, oddly, summed up the feelings and the frustrations of many — at Tuesday’s meeting and work session of the Alabama State School Board.
Frustrated lawmakers, including Gov. Kay Ivey, asked Alabama State Department of Education officials and board members to settle on a comprehensive plan to reopen Alabama’s public schools this fall so they could accept the millions in federal funds that Ivey is trying to dole out.
“I’ve never encountered such a situation,” said state Sen. Jim McClendon, who was in Montgomery on Tuesday to present the Safely Opening Schools Program that he supports. “It’s $150 million. Do you want it or not?”
The SOS program, which is backed by the Alabama School Nurses Association and a bipartisan group of state lawmakers, would hire 300 more nurses and provide testing units, testing materials, thermal imaging temperature scanners and stand-alone first aid rooms for every school.
Under the plan, students would be scanned prior to entering a school bus or entering the school by the scanners. Students with high temps would be quarantined and taken to the first aid room where a test would be administered. The testing units have the capability of returning results in 15 minutes and can be used to test for flu types A and B and coronavirus.
It has a price tag of $150 million — with almost all the funding coming out of the state’s $1.8 billion of CARES Act dollars.
Ivey, who is the president of the school board, invited McClendon, and Sens. Jabo Waggoner and Bobby Singleton to talk about the SOS plan. Singleton pleaded with the board to implement the plan and treat all schools and students equally.
Some board members seemed unmoved and raised curious questions. Cynthia McCarty said she heard from nurses who were concerned that the added duties of testing students would be too much. And McCarty said she was concerned that the extra nurses might not be enough to adequately test the students.
Mackey, for the first time, talked about his new plan, which includes $50,000 for every school to use for COVID-related expenses. The request for funds related to Mackey’s plan was first made late last week — a new development after Mackey originally resisted including funding in ALSDE’s “roadmap” plan released late last month.
His new plan, he said, “overlaps” with the SOS plan in terms of hiring more school nurses. But it stops short of mandating testing or requiring that local districts spend allocated money on specific items.
From the start on Tuesday, it seemed Ivey was unhappy with Mackey’s plan — which has also been heavily criticized by teachers and principals for its lack of specific actions and guidelines — and demanded that he provide reasons for why he was resisting the SOS plan.
Although, she did agree with Mackey’s resistance to testing — a surprising pivot for Ivey, who had been in favor of widespread testing in schools as late as Monday.
Following his presentation, Ivey told Mackey to have a new proposal to her by Friday, and indicated that she wanted him to work with McClendon, Singleton and Waggoner.
It’s unclear to all involved at this point if that new proposal will include widespread testing, although it’s hard to imagine why it wouldn’t. The ability to quickly test students provides a level of security that likely will be favored by teachers and parents.
And there’s another factor: Sports.
A testing device that can spit out results in 15 minutes could be used to screen athletes, coaches and officials prior to games, dramatically reducing safety concerns.
Alabama High School Athletic Association executive director Steve Savarese told lawmakers, and confirmed again later on Tuesday, that he supports the SOS program and any plan “that enhances the safety and well-being of our students.”
Where that leaves things is quite unclear. McClendon said he was baffled by the entire meeting and why Mackey and ALSDE is resisting the SOS program. But he said he was willing to work with Mackey and Ivey to move things forward and “do what’s in the best interest of the students and teachers.”