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Hundreds Rally for School Choice In Montgomery

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

On Wednesday, January 27, hundreds of Alabama school children and their parents joined Alabama Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) in a rally in front of the state capital demanding that the state of Alabama offer more education choices to students such as charter schools and expanding the controversial Alabama Accountability Act.

Speaker Mike Hubbard said in a statement on Facebook, “School Choice Week is one of my favorite weeks of the year. When we stand up for the future of our children and fight for the betterment of our educational system, Alabama families are winning and we are all better off for it.”

U.S. Representative Gary Palmer (R-Hoover) offered his own written statement concerning the rally for school choice taking place in Montgomery on Wednesday and the wider School Choice Week that is taking place all over the nation.  Rep. Palmer wrote, “Having been an advocate for school choice for more than two decades, I am pleased that citizens in Alabama, and all over America, are choosing to highlight the importance of this issue.  Alabama has made significant progress in recent years expanding school choice, but there is still a long way to go.”

Congresswoman Martha Roby said in a video statement, “I’m Martha Roby and I’m proud to celebrate School Choice Week.  Every student deserves a chance, and every parent deserves a choice. My state of Alabama is going to be making another big push on improving school choice this year, and we are going to do our part in Congress to make sure federal laws support and do not hinder those efforts.”

Not everyone in Alabama is as enthusiastic about increasing school choice options in Alabama which they say would divert students and education dollars from Alabama’s public schools.

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The Alabama Education Association (AEA) issued a statement on Wednesday saying that it supports the efforts of all parents everywhere seeking the best possible education for their children, be it in public, private, religious, or home schools.  However, AEA must stand against those that seek to divert scarce public education resources into ideas that have been shown not to improve student achievement and, instead, foster fraud and waste of taxpayer funds.

AEA Associate Executive Secretary Dr. Greg Graves said, “Just as with the oral argument before the Alabama Supreme Court on AAA, while public school educators and students went about the tasks of teaching and learning, children were taken out of the classroom to be used as pawns and set decoration by those who seek to dismantle and destroy public education.  The numbers from AAA show that it is predominantly being used to subsidize parents who already sent their children to private school and those in school systems without a ‘failing school.’  Studies have shown conclusively that students in charter schools perform no better, and often worse, than students in public schools and that charter schools are rife with fraud and abuse of taxpayer funds.  Instead of investing in strategies that we know improve teaching and learning, such as smaller class sizes, better training and professional development of teachers, and additional resources for students with challenges, we are only looking at ideas that divert money from public schools into private hands.”

House Minority Leader Craig Ford (D) said in his own statement on the school choice rally in Montgomery: “The problem with charter schools and the Accountability Act’s scholarship granting organizations is that not every kid gets a choice or a chance. No matter how many scholarships and charter schools we create, some kids will get left behind in a failing school. The goal of public education is to make sure every child gets a quality education, not just those who are lucky enough to get selected for a scholarship or charter school. Instead of giving up on struggling schools, we should be fixing those schools so that all our children get a chance.”

Supporters however say that Alabama is one of the last states still refusing to offer charter schools.

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Policy Institute Senior Analyst Dr. John Hill wrote, “For as long as charter schools have been a choice for public education in other states, the Alabama Policy Institute has promoted their legalization.  Throughout much of that time, reform-minded legislators had little chance of seeing a charter schools bill adopted due to the Alabama’s political environment and the effective messaging of those opposed to choice in our public schools.  Hence, Alabama remains one of only eight states in the nation without a charter schools law.”

Dr. Hill said, “Much of the anti-charter messaging is centered on a handful of arguments that are not new and have been used in nearly every state’s public debate over charters.  Any attempt to expand school choice, no matter the vehicle, has been or will be met with scare tactics on issues of funding, control, and cherry-picking students.  It is time for Alabama to move beyond these talking points, as so many other states have, and lay these concerns to rest.”

Rep. Palmer said, “The broad-based coalition of organizations supporting school choice in Alabama, which includes the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund, the Black Alliance for Educational Options, Students First Alabama, the American Federation for Children, the Alabama Business Education Alliance, the Alabama Public Charter School Alliance, and the Business Council of Alabama, is very encouraging for the future of school choice in Alabama.  I’m certain their efforts will have a big impact and will continue to create more opportunities for students in Alabama to achieve the education they need and deserve.”

Congresswoman Roby said that in the last Congress, she supported and the U.S. House of Representatives passed: The Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act, which promotes state efforts to expand choice through charter schools, particularly for at-risk and under-served populations and the Student Success Act, which contained provisions supporting parental engagement as well as opportunities for parents to enroll their children in local magnet schools and charter schools.  Rep. Roby said that the House is expected to take up these and other measures in support of school choice this year.

Rep. Palmer said, “This week is the fifth Annual School Choice Week, which was started in 2011.  There are approximately 11,000 independently planned events happening around the country in support of school choice as a result.  More than 2000 people are expected to attend the rally in Montgomery today.  The organizers intend to support choices ranging from traditional public schools to public charter schools, magnet schools, private schools, online learning, and homeschooling.  The Alabama State Legislature is expected to take up school choice measures in the upcoming legislative session.”

Critics continue to have doubts.

State Representative Ford said, “The school choice debate is misleading because most kids will never get a choice. In the end, all these ‘reforms’ are is just a modern day version of bussing, and simply bussing some kids out of failing schools is not a solution.”

Dr. Graves said, “Despite the rhetoric from those who are looking to divert public school funding, parents have always had a choice between public schools, private schools, and home schooling.  For the last decade under No Child Left Behind, most parents in what are now called “failing schools” also had the choice to transfer to other public schools in the same district.  What is being presented as “choice” is nothing but a way to starve public education and make charter and private school operators rich.”

Alabama’s largest Scholarship Granting Organization (SGO) is headed by former Alabama Governor Bob Riley.  Critics argue that tax dollars to the Education Trust Fund are diverted to the SGOs hurting public schools.

Congressman Gary Palmer represents Alabama’s Sixth Congressional District. Congresswoman Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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The Alabama Senate will be under new leadership in 2021

The caucus unanimously elected Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper, as the new pro tem. 

Josh Moon

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Alabama State Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper

The Alabama Senate will be under new leadership when the 2021 legislative session begins. 

Del Marsh, who has served as president pro tem of the senate since 2010, announced that he wouldn’t be seeking a leadership role during a Republican caucus vote held Monday. The caucus unanimously elected Sen. Greg Reed, R-Jasper, as the new pro tem. 

The caucus also selected Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville, as the new majority leader, a position Reed has held for the last several years. 

Marsh’s decision not to seek the leadership role wasn’t particularly surprising. Numerous ALGOP lawmakers have said privately over the last two years that Marsh has toyed with the idea of stepping down and handing the position to Reed. Marsh also announced last month that he won’t seek re-election to the Senate when his term ends in 2022, bringing to a close a 24-year tenure. 

In a particularly candid interview with his hometown newspaper, the Anniston Star, in October, Marsh indicated that he had grown tired of politics altogether due to the hyper-partisan climate and was unlikely to seek any public office. He also blamed President Donald Trump for helping to create a toxic climate. 

“I’ll be darned if I want to go up there and fight all of the time,” Marsh said in the Star interview. “I don’t know what it’s going to take to end the animosity. I blame [President] Trump for part of this. What happens on the national level — the fighting and name-calling — filters down to the state.”

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For Reed and Scofield, the moves up the ladder weren’t exactly speedy. They’ve each served in the senate since 2010, and Reed has served as majority leader since 2014.

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Poarch Creek Indians partners with Sweet Grown Alabama

The tribe’s support will be used to fund traditional and digital marketing to encourage buying local, according to the nonprofit’s press release. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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The Poarch Creek Indians have joined eight other organizations as founding members and supporters of the nonprofit Sweet Grown Alabama.

The Poarch Creek Indians have joined eight other organizations as founding members and supporters of the nonprofit Sweet Grown Alabama, which aims to help consumers find locally grown produce and products, the nonprofit announced Monday. 

“I am excited to announce our support of Sweet Grown Alabama,” said Stephanie Bryan, Tribal chair and CEO, in a statement. “We are always looking for ways to support Alabama’s economy and this important initiative will educate Alabamians about products that are grown and bred in our own backyards.”

The tribe’s support will be used to fund traditional and digital marketing to encourage buying local, according to the nonprofit’s press release. 

“This financial support from the Poarch Creek Indians will have a positive ripple effect on Alabama’s economy,” said Ellie Watson, Sweet Grown Alabama’s director, in a statement. “The Tribe has a strong reputation of community support and economic development, and we are incredibly grateful for their sponsorship of Sweet Grown Alabama at the highest level.”    

Other founding members and supporters of the nonprofit, which formed in September, are the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, Alabama Farm Credit, Alabama Farmers Cooperative, Alfa Farmers, First South Farm Credit and PowerSouth Energy Cooperative. 

To learn more about Sweet Grown Alabama or to find locally grown produce and products visit the nonprofit’s website here.

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Governor awards nearly $19.4 million in block grants for Alabama communities

The CDBG funds will be used to repair dangerous roads, provide safe water, build community and senior centers, improve sewer systems and more.

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More than 60 Alabama cities and counties will soon see improvements in their communities thanks to almost $19.4 million in Community Development Block Grants awarded by Gov. Kay Ivey. 

The CDBG funds will be used to repair dangerous roads, provide safe water, build community and senior centers, improve sewer systems and more.

“Community Development Block Grants help raise the living standards for thousands of Alabamians who may have struggled with dangerous roads, sewage backed up in their homes or find it difficult to wash clothes because of inadequate water pressure,” Ivey said. “I am pleased to award these grants and I must commend those local elected officials who recognized those struggles and responded to address needs in their communities.”

Grants are awarded on competitive basis in several categories including small city, large city, county, community enhancement, Black Belt and planning. Some cities received planning grants in addition to other competitive grants.

In most instances, awarded governments are required to allocate some local funds to projects as a match for the grants.

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is administering the grants from funds made available by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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“Many local governments, particularly this year with the COVID-19 pandemic, often struggle for funds to provide basic services for residents,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said. “ADECA is pleased to join Gov. Ivey in awarding these funds from the CDBG program, which enables governments to accomplish worthwhile projects to make their communities better places to live.”

Grants awarded and projects (grouped by geographical region) include:

North Alabama

  • Ardmore– $350,000 to replace sewer lines and ensure safe disposal of sewage.
  • Colbert County – $182,876 to raise the roadbed and improve drainage to eliminate pavement flooding on Gnat Pond Road, Cassie Davis Street and Marthaler Lane. 
  • Courtland– $350,000 to replace aging water lines and provide safe drinking water to residents.
  • Fort Payne– $450,000 to demolish and clear the abandoned Fort Payne General Hospital complex. 
  • Glencoe– $450,000 to replace sewer lines on East Air Depot Road, Taylor Road and Lonesome Bend Road.
  • Haleyville– $450,000 to upgrade sewer, water and streets in several areas of the city. 
  • Holly Pond– $250,000 to construct a new senior citizen center to help meet the needs of the growing program.
  • Limestone County – $301,000 to provide pavement and drainage improvements on Chapman Hollow Road south of the town of Lester. The project is designed to alleviate flooding.
  • Morgan County– $250,000 to upgrade and add an addition to the Falk Senior Center. 
  • North Courtland– $347,300 to improve drainage along Davis Street and other parts of the town.
  • Red Bay– $445,000 to improve sewer lines in the southeast part of the city. 
  • Sheffield– $210,000 to demolish and clear multiple dilapidated residential and commercial structures throughout the city.
  • Tuscumbia– $365,000 to raze and clear 23 dilapidated structures located throughout the city.
  • Vina – $348,650 to install a new boost pump at a water storage tank to improve water flow and pressure.
  • Winfield– $450,000 to improve drainage and upgrade streets to alleviate flooding along Regal Street. 

North Central Alabama

  • Blountsville– $250,000 to repair and resurface parts of College Street, Chestnut Street, Church Street and Ratliff Street. 
  • Chilton County– $350,000 to pave more than four miles of county roads including County Roads 127, 128 and 201
  • Cleburne County – $350,000 to extend public water services to 32 households along portions of County Roads 49, 689, 114 and 447. 
  • Columbiana– $450,000 to improve the city’s main sewer line to prevent sewage backup and related problems.  
  • Detroit– $350,000 to install new water lines and add fire hydrants to benefit more than 100 residents.
  • Talladega (city)- $250,000 to demolish and clear dilapidated structures at several locations throughout the city. 
  • Woodland– $350,000 to replace water lines at several locations throughout the town to improve water quality and flow.
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South Central Alabama

  • Boligee – $350,000 to improve the town’s sewer lines and manhole covers to ensure no infiltration into the lines from rain and other sources. 
  • Brantley– $350,000 to rehabilitate or replace sewer lines and other components of its sewer system. 
  • Brantley– $32,000 for a planning grant to help develop a land-use plan, subdivision regulations and zoning ordinances.
  • Demopolis– $450,000 to resurface portions of nine streets to include South Glover Street, McGee Street, Hilltop Circle, East Capitol Street, East Lyon Street, North Chestnut Avenue, North Cherry Avenue, North Ash Street, and North Front Avenue. 
  • Franklin– $32,000 for a planning grant designed to help the town develop future plans. 
  • Greene County -$350,000 to improve 4.5 miles of roads including Basketball Lane, Sandy Way, Smoke Lane, Brush Creek Circle, Curve Lane, Country Road Lane, Plum Lane, Star Lane and Jasmine Lane.
  • Linden– $350,000 to resurface and improve drainage on Easley Street, Adams Drive, Ford Street, Brandon Avenue, Barkley Street, Lucas Street, Gardner Street and Louisville Avenue/Pool Street. 
  • Livingston– $450,000 to replace sewer lines in the north-central part of the city. 
  • Pine Hill– $350,000 to rehabilitate two sewer system lift stations. 
  • Phenix City– $250,000 to fund a city-wide cleanup of multiple dilapidated structures. 
  • Selma– $450,000 to improve drainage along LL Anderson Avenue, Arsenal Place, Alabama Avenue and Mechanic Street, and Highland Avenue.
  • Selma– $40,000 for a planning grant to help the city develop a strategy to deal with dilapidated structures, housing and economic development. 
  • Sumter County– $250,000 to renovate the Sumter County E911 Call Center to streamline emergency operations. 
  • Union Springs – $450,000 to improve water, sewer and drainage along Bloomfield Street, April Street and Tye Avenue.
  • Uniontown– $250,000 to demolish and clear several dilapidated buildings in the town. 
  • York– $350,000 to upgrade sewer lines and rehabilitate sewer mains in the Grant City community. 

Southeast Alabama

  • Ariton – $250,000 to resurface and improve drainage along Dillard Street, Zumstein Avenue, Williams Street, Barnes Street and Claybank Street.
  • Ariton– $30,000 for a planning grant to help the town develop long-range plans and goals. 
  • Crenshaw County– $350,000 to repave Helicon Cross Road and Rising Star Road north of Petrey. 
  • Cottonwood– $350,000 to replace old and damaged sewer lines and a failing lift station.
  • Daleville – $292,500 to replace water lines along Culpepper Street, Wells Avenue, Ennis Street and Holman Street.
  • Dozier– $250,000 to improve water pressure and improve fire protection capability in an area along Main Street.
  • Eufaula– $450,000 to implement the fourth phase of its housing rehabilitation program. The program will be in the Edgewood subdivision area. 
  • Hartford– $350,000 to replace sewer lines and components in the vicinity of Third Avenue. 
  • Headland- $450,000 to rehabilitate up to 30 substandard houses in the central and north part of the city. 
  • Florala– $350,000 to continue to rehabilitate old and damaged sewer lines in a project that has been ongoing with CDBG funds since 2005.
  • New Brockton– $314,000 to renovate and upgrade three sewer pump stations to improve sewage collection. 
  • Ozark– $250,000 to resurface at least a portion of nine streets including Brown Drive, Lowery Road, Julian Street, Wilson Avenue, Hall Drive, McDonald Avenue, Woodview Avenue, Brookview Drive and Parkview Drive. 
  • Pike County – $350,000 to resurface County Road 7749 (McLure Town Road), northeast of Troy and pave County Road 2256 south of Troy.
  • Troy– $250,000 to renovate a portion of the historic Academy Street School and convert it to a community and cultural arts center.  

Southwest/Coastal Alabama

  • Beatrice– $350,000 to replace deteriorating water lines and add fire hydrants. 
  • Conecuh County – $350,000 to pave sections of 26 roads throughout the county.
  • East Brewton– $337,000 to rehabilitate sewer lines and pumping station in the southeast part of the city. 
  • Elberta– $350,000 to improve drainage along Baldwin County Road 83 (Main Street) to alleviate flooding.
  • Escambia County – $350,000 to replace and extend water lines and install fire hydrants in the Ridge Road community. 
  • Frisco City– $250,000 to resurface at least part of several streets including Harvestview Drive, Martin Luther King Jr. Street, School Street, Wiggins Avenue, and Wild Fork Road. 
  • Fulton– $350,000 to pave at least sections of Main Street, Eighth Street, First Street and Green Acres Road.
  • Jackson– $208,000 to improve drainage on Cemetery Road including adding curbs and gutters. 
  • Lisman– $350,000 to resurface parts of Commerce Street, Thomas Drive, Kinnon Heights/Circle, Broad Street, Tower Street, Coleman Circle and West Second Avenue. 

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Governor announces HomTex expansion to create 300-plus jobs in the Black Belt

A family-owned and certified minority-owned business will create 300 to 325 new jobs.

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Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday announced that HomTex Inc. received $10,572,100 in CARES Act funds to expand operations to Selma to develop Personal Protective Equipment.

A family-owned and certified minority-owned business headquartered in Cullman County, the new Dallas County manufacturing location will create 300 to 325 new jobs.

“HomTex has made Alabama proud by stepping up during the COVID-19 pandemic to shift their production to create critical PPE supplies,” Ivey said. “Their ability to be flexible in order to remain operational is the exact intent of the CARES Act funds. I appreciate their commitment to the economy and Alabama workers by providing needed jobs in Dallas County and thank HomTex for being a great corporate partner with the state of Alabama.”

In a partnership with the state of Alabama and Wallace Community College in Selma, HomTex will establish an operation to produce General Purpose and FDA approved Level 1, 2 and 3 Surgical Masks and N95 masks.

Wallace Community College will offer apprenticeship programs that will allow students to help make masks for their region and beyond.

“The coronavirus pandemic has clearly demonstrated that our country needs a dependable domestic production pipeline for PPE, and Cullman-based HomTex has stepped up to fill a  portion of that critical need,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “With its expansion in Cullman and its new growth plans in Selma, HomTex is helping to make Alabama a U.S. hub for the production of PPE. In addition, the company’s new Selma operation will provide an economic boost for the Black Belt region and advance our strategic goal of providing opportunities in Alabama’s rural communities.”

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HomTex Inc. was founded in 1987 by Jerry Wootten in Vinemont and now has its headquarters in Cullman. In addition to its Vinemont and Cullman locations, HomTex has production and distribution facilities in Sylva, North Carolina; Belton, South Carolina; and Leoma, Tennessee.

“We are very honored to be the recipient of COVID-19 Relief Funds from the state of Alabama,” president and chief financial officer of HomTex Jeremy Wootten said. “This second operation will make HomTex one of the largest face masks manufacturers in the USA, and we are proud to be manufacturing these products in Cullman and Selma. We very much appreciate the support from Governor Ivey, the State Senators and everyone who made the factory in Selma a reality.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, HomTex shifted production at the Cullman plant from bed linens to disposable medical-grade masks as well as reusable, washable cotton masks. The manufacturer of DreamFit sheets, HomTex sells directly to furniture and mattress stores as well as national retail chains, specialty stores, gift stores and E-commerce. 

This fall, HomTex secured a contract to provide protective face masks to the federal agency responsible for the operation of the U.S. Capitol Complex in Washington, D.C.

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Officials in Cullman and Dallas counties welcomed the company’s expansion plans.

“Through this pandemic, we have seen the need for bringing supply chain manufacturing back to America. The only way to make these expansions happen is by working together. The partnerships that made this project a reality include: Governor Ivey and her cabinet; the Cullman-Selma partnership; the Economic Development Committee in the Senate working across the aisle; and, Wallace State Selma and Wallace State Hanceville working as one to provide training,” State Sen. Garlan Gudger said. “Alabama is proving that partnerships are the key to creating a better future for our state and the nation.”

“I must first thank God for these 320 new jobs in the Black Belt of Alabama. I am so appreciative of Governor’s Ivey’s decision and work to make this happen for the people of the Black Belt. It is a major step in our goal to help people help themselves out of poverty in Senator Singleton’s and my district,” State Sen. Malika Sanders-Fortier said. “I am humbled by the bi-partisanship cooperation that made this all possible. This is how we build the Beloved Community. I believe this is a first step that can breathe new hope into the people of the Black Belt for much more economic development to come.”

Alabama received approximately $1.9 billion of federal CARES Act funding to respond to and mitigate COVID-19. Alabama Act 2020-199 designated up to $300 million of the Coronavirus Relief Fund to be used to support citizens, businesses, and non-profit and faith-based organizations of the state directly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

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