By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
In 2012 charter schools legislation crashed and burned in the Alabama legislature. A modest charter school bill was weakened in the Alabama House of Representatives and then got completely gutted by a reluctant Senate. The onerous provisions of the Senate version were so unworkable the House never bothered to take it up. The charter school bill failure was one of the few legislative disappointments for the Republican leadership during the first GOP controlled quadrennium in living memory.
In 2014 Alabama voters rewarded the GOP super majorities in both Houses with re-enforcements. 2015 has proven to be an entirely different story for charter schools and the legislative tag team of Mike Hubbard and Del Marsh. A much more ambitious charter school bill has sailed through the legislature crushing its hopelessly outmatched token opposition.
Senate Bill 45 was passed on Wednesday, March 18 by the Alabama House of Representatives by a vote of 58 to 41 after four hours of debate. The Alabama Senate immediately took up the bill with the changes the House made and voted 24 to 11 to concur. Now the School Choice and Student Opportunity Act goes to Governor Robert Bentley (R) for his consideration.
State Representative Mack Butler (R from Rainbow City) said on Facebook, “After Senate action tonight The Charter School Bill is on the way to the Governor for his signature! This is Historic Legislation that I believe will transform public education in a very positive way!”
Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R from Auburn) said in a Facebook statement, “The Alabama House Republican Caucus continued our efforts tonight to improve and innovate public education in the state of Alabama with the passage of the School Choice and Student Opportunity Act. The creation of public charter schools will expand our educational options will give more Alabama families the chance at a better education for their children.”
Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R from Jasper) applauded the passage of the Schools Choice and Student Opportunity Act in a written statement: “In the first few weeks of the regular session we have addressed specific agenda items put forward by Members of the Alabama Senate including legislation related to charter schools. We will continue to focus on legislation that is part of the expansive 2015 Alabama Senate legislative agenda.”
The School Choice and Student Opportunity Act was personally sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R from Anniston) and was sponsored in the Alabama House of Representatives by State Representative Terri Collins (R from Decatur).
Rep. Collins said in a statement, “Every child in Alabama deserves a high quality education, and the School Choice and Student Opportunity Act empowers parents with another choice for their child’s education. It is time for Alabama to join the other 42 states that provide this innovative option to educators, parents, and students.
The bill is part of the House Republican Caucus’s “Alabama First Agenda” and proponents claim that the act is designed to empower parents and expand school choice options through the creation of public charter schools in Alabama. The bill was also a key plank of Senate Republicans “Paving a Path to the Future” 2015 legislative agenda.
Rep. Collins is the chair of the House Education Policy Committee. Chair Collins said that Alabama benefited by learning from the experiences of the 42 other states who have passed some version of charter schools already. According to Collins, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers stated that SB45 is “one of the most accountability focused charter school laws in the country.”
Senate President Marsh said, “I want to thank all those who were involved in the process of passing this legislation. I am glad we were able to bring so many to the table to give Alabama parents the best educational options possible.”
Alabama Democrats continue to oppose the passage of the charter schools bill.
Senator Quinton T. Ross Jr. (D from Montgomery) said “I fundamentally and philosophically disagree with the passage of charter school legislation in the state of Alabama. I truly believe it is a setback for the schoolchildren as well as the citizens of the state.”
The Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, Rep. Darrio Melton (D from Selma) said, “This shows that members of the Alabama House are not ready to tackle the tough issues facing our state. We must show leadership and quit trying to add problems into a strained system. We need to fully fund the education system we already have: ensure every child has access to quality pre-kindergarten, updated textbooks, first-class teachers and clean facilities in which to learn. Not until we get our house in order can we begin to add charter schools into the system.”
House Minority Leader Craig Ford (D from Gadsden) said, “Charter schools have been a legislative priority for the Republican leadership, so it is no surprise that this bill was passed. But just like with the budget crisis, legislative leaders are avoiding the problem; they are not actually helping or fixing failing schools. The experience in other states has proven that charter schools are a scam: they have bilked the taxpayers out of at least $130 million dollars, and failed to produce better academic results. The charter school bill we passed today does not solve these problems. For the sake of our children and the taxpayers, I hope Gov. Bentley will veto this terrible bill.”
Public charter schools are open to any Alabama student, and their administrators have autonomy over key decisions like finance, personnel, schedule, and curriculum. Only ten new public charter schools would be allowed a year for the first five years; but school boards will be allowed to convert an unlimited number of existing public schools to charters.
The local school board can refuse to bring a new charter to their system; but the bill empowers the Alabama Board of Education to create the Alabama Public Charter Commission which would hear appeals of charter applications denied by their local school board.
If parents don’t like their neighborhood school they will be able to apply to a charter school in another neighborhood, town, or county. In exchange for unprecedented levels of freedom from existing state school regulations, a charter school that fails to meet the expectations set in their charter can be closed.
Rep. Collins said, “We must continue to be innovative and expand our educational options until every single child in Alabama is graduating from our schools with the skills they need for additional education or a career. While there is no silver bullet to fix our educational issues, I believe that the School Choice and Student Opportunity Act will give more Alabama families the chance at a better education for their children.”
Senator Ross said, “Every citizen needs to be aware of how their public dollars will be spent under the guise of education funding. I pray that the governor will think long and hard about the public schoolchildren and the taxpayers of the state of Alabama before signing this legislation.”
Senator Marsh said. “Throughout this whole process, we worked closely with the Executive and the Legislative branches and I look forward to Governor Bentley signing the School Choice and Student Opportunity Act.”
While charter schools are new to Alabama, nationally 3,285,569 students across the country attend charter schools.
“We’re not going to get a do-over:” Alabama health officer on Thanksgiving and COVID-19
There were 1,427 hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Alabama on Monday, the most since Aug. 11.
Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris on Monday pleaded with the public to avoid gatherings over Thanksgiving as COVID-19 continues to surge in Alabama and hospitals statewide are filling with coronavirus patients.
“We don’t want this to be the last ever Thanksgiving for someone in your family, like your parents or your grandparents,” Harris said during a press conference Monday.
Harris said Alabama’s numbers aren’t headed in the right direction and more than 230,000 Alabamians — roughly 4 percent of the state’s population — have been infected by the coronavirus.
“We are adding a couple of thousand new cases a day, at least, that we are aware,” Harris said. “This is a time for people to be vigilant. This is a time to be careful and to think about what you’re going to be doing.”
Alabama added 1,574 new coronavirus cases on Monday, and the state’s 14-day average for new daily cases was at a record high 2,087. In the last two weeks, the state has added 29,223 cases, the most cases in any two week period since the pandemic arrived in Alabama in March.
There were 1,427 hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Alabama on Monday. The last time so many were hospitalized in the state was on Aug. 11, during Alabama’s summer surge.
Harris said that he and his wife will be staying home for Thanksgiving instead of having his family’s regular large, intergenerational gathering. What happens with Alabama’s COVID-19 numbers over Thanksgiving will impact what the state’s December holiday and Christmas season will look like, Harris said.
“Are we gonna be here a month from now trying to have the same conversation? I really, really hope not,” Harris said.
Dr. Mary McIntyre, the Alabama Department of Public Health’s chief medical officer, said during the briefing that her home usually sees between 15 and 20 family members arriving for Thanksgiving. They’ve limited this year’s Thanksgiving to three additional people from out of their household, for a total of seven people, she said.
Everyone must wear masks and have temperatures checked at the door, she said.
Everyone will be seated six feet from one another and a Zoom video conference will be set up for those family members who won’t be attending in person, McIntyre said. They’ll use disposable plates, cups and utensils and have the ability, weather permitting, to eat outdoors.
“If we want to live to see another Thanksgiving, and I do, that it may mean stepping back this Thanksgiving and really limiting the number of people, and some of the things that we do,” McIntyre said. “Now is not the time to get out to do Black Friday shopping.”
Dr. Kierstin Kennedy, UAB’s chief of hospital medicine, in a separate press briefing Monday echoed concern over the possibility of spikes following Thanksgiving and Christmas if the public doesn’t do what’s needed to keep themselves and others safe.
“We are very much worried about the potential spike in numbers. We’ve also seen some of our own staff getting sick,” Kennedy said. “And unfortunately that’s not been at work. It’s been because we are just like you. We’re tired. We’re lonely. We want to try to socialize, and some of us have let our guards down and, as a result, have gotten sick.”
Kennedy said while there’s is concern over future spikes following the upcoming holidays “there is a way for all of us to help prevent that from happening.”
Kennedy said when Gov. Kay Ivey first issued her statewide mask order and social distancing requirements, the public masked up, businesses enforced the orders, and coronavirus numbers improved.
“It didn’t get nearly as bad as we thought, and we are really hopeful that the community is going to come together and do that again for us,” Kennedy said. “Because it’s more than just not having enough space for the COVID patients. It’s also those patients who do not have COVID that have other conditions. They rely on us for routine care, and we want to make sure that we’re available to provide that.”
Kenedy said UAB has an incredible group of staff members, who’ve proven themselves to be quite resilient, but that “the group is tired.”
“We’ve been doing this every single day since March, and so as you can imagine, people are very tired. It’s very emotional, especially as we see younger patients getting sick with this and getting sick in ways that we weren’t expecting,” she said.
Harris again urged the public to make smart decisions that will help slow the spread of coronavirus and save lives.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re not going to get a do-over on this,” Harris said. “This is a big national holiday, and we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and our numbers are worse than they have ever been during this entire response. Please be careful. Please be safe. And please try to take care of those people who are most vulnerable.”
Governor allocates $3.6 million in CARES Act funds to food banks
The money is to go to the nonprofit Alabama Food Bank Association, which will administer the funds.
Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday announced that $3.6 million in federal CARES Act money will be used to reimburse food banks for COVID-19-related expenses.
“Alabama is a state where neighbors help neighbors, even in the most difficult times,” Ivey said in a statement. “The Coronavirus pandemic presented significant challenges around the world, as well as here at home in our own state. Food banks in communities across Alabama have been a lifeline for those in need, and I am proud to be able to put these funds toward the Alabama Feeding Initiative. I have told Alabamians that I remain committed to getting these CARES Act funds into the hands of those who need it.”
The funds are to go to the nonprofit Alabama Food Bank Association, according to the memorandum of understanding. The association will administer the funds to eight participating food banks across the state, which can be reimbursed for the following:
- The purchase of food, packaging and related supplies to meet increased demand.
- operational expenses, including fuel and maintenance, incurred due to handling a higher amount for food, as well as open-air distribution events.
- Rental costs of storage space and vehicles to handle increased volumes of food.
- To purchase PPE, screening equipment and decontamination services to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Unless Congress extends the deadline, Alabama and other states have until Dec. 30 to spend CARES Act funds or the money reverts back to the federal government. Ivey has just under $1 billion left to spend before the deadline.
Alabama Education Association, Board of Medical Examiners meet over excuses to break COVID-19 quarantines
Prior to the meeting, the AEA on Nov. 5 threatened legal action against the board over the matter.
Officials with the Alabama Education Association and the Alabama State Board of Medical Examiners met on Thursday to discuss a concern the association has with doctors who write excuses to allow students to return to school before their mandated COVID-19 quarantine periods expire.
At the meeting between Theron Stokes, associate executive director of the Alabama Education Association, and William Perkins, executive director of the Alabama State Board of Medical Examiners, Stokes learned that the board wasn’t aware of the problem, the AEA said in a press release.
“Both groups agreed to set up a meeting with educational and medical organizations on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic in Alabama,” the AEA said in the release. “A meeting should be held before the end of the year and will allow the AEA and the Board of Medical Examiners, as well as other educational and medical organizations, to review existing guidelines issued by the Alabama Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and ensure conformity in following those guidelines.”
In a letter to Perkins on Thursday, Stokes wrote that it was AEA’s understanding that the board was aware of the problem, but he wrote that during their meeting he became aware that neither the board nor Perkins was aware of the problem.
“It was not the intent of AEA to cause any unnecessary problems for you, the doctors you represent, or your organization regarding this matter,” Stokes wrote.
Prior to the meeting, the AEA on Nov. 5 threatened legal action against the board over the matter.
“It is our firm belief that there exists no medical scenario under which these students could be written out of quarantine and that to do so is violative of ADPH and CDC quarantine recommendations,” Stokes wrote in the Nov. 5 letter.
Stokes in his recent letter notes that both agreed in the meeting to bring together representatives of the other organizations to come up with a uniform procedure for following state and federal guidelines.
“I agree with your plan to conduct this meeting and finalize our goals before the holidays,” Stokes wrote.
Caravan to honor the life of longtime State Rep. Alvin Holmes
The caravan is being organized by community activists Ja’Mel Brown and William Boyd.
There is a car ride caravan honoring the life and service of Rep. Alvin Holmes in Montgomery at 2 p.m. Monday. The caravan is being organized by community activists Ja’Mel Brown and William Boyd.
On Saturday, Holmes passed away at age 81. He was born in 1939 into a very segregated Montgomery and spent his life battling in favor of civil rights causes. He was one of the first Black state representatives to serve in the Alabama Legislature after implementation of the Voting Rights Act.
There had been Black legislators during Reconstruction in the 1870s, but Jim Crow segregation during much of the 20th Century had effectively disenfranchised millions of Black Alabamians for generations.
Holmes served in the Alabama House of Representatives, representing House District 78 from 1974 to 2018. Holmes participated in the civil rights movement. He was a professor and a real estate broker.
The chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, State Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, released a statement mourning Holmes’s passing.
“Representative Alvin Holmes was a great Democrat and a fighter,” England said. “He stood on the frontlines of the fight for civil rights and was willing to sacrifice everything in his fight for justice for all. He not only had a long and distinguished career as a civil rights leader, but also as a member of the Legislature, serving his constituents faithfully and dutifully for 44 years. Alabama has lost a giant, whose wit, intelligence, fearlessness, selfless determination, and leadership will be sorely missed. My prayers are with his friends, family, and colleagues.”
State Rep. Kirk Hatcher, D-Montgomery, fondly remembered Holmes, whom he defeated in the 2018 Democratic primary.
“Today we lost a dedicated warrior for social justice. Representative Alvin Holmes was a true public servant,” Hatcher said. “What an amazing legacy he has left us! He could always be seen waging the good fight for equality in all aspects of state government and beyond. His public service is legendary and without peer.”
“In recent years, I am profoundly grateful for the grace he showed me in his willingness to share with me his blueprint for effectively serving our people—and by extension the larger community,” Hatcher said. “Today, my fervent prayers are with his beloved daughter Veronica, her precious mom (and his best friend), as well as other cherished members of his family and friends as they mourn his passing. I humbly join the many voices who offer a sincere ‘Thank You’ to Mr. Alvin Holmes for his dedicated service to our Montgomery community and our state. ‘May angels sing thee to thy rest.’”
State Rep. Tashina Morris, D-Montgomery, also fondly remembered Holmes.
“Sending Prayers to The Holmes family,” Morris said. “Alvin Holmes was the epitome of greatness working for his people!! May you Rest Well !!!”
Republican insider and former State Rep. Perry Hooper Jr. also served with Holmes in the Alabama House of Representatives and the Montgomery legislative delegation.
“I served with Alvin for 20 years in the Alabama Legislature,” Hooper said. “We often disagreed on the issues, but even after a heated floor debate, we could shake hands at the end of the day. I always considered him a friend. He loved Montgomery and he was a great representative of his district and its issues. He was always willing to go the extra mile for one of his constituents. When I served as Chairman of the Contract Review Committee, he was one of the committee’s most conscientious members. He was always questioning contracts so he could be assured that the contract represented a good use of taxpayer’s dollars which as Chairman I greatly appreciated. He was one of a kind pioneer in the Alabama Legislature and will be sorely missed.”
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill served with Holmes in the Alabama House of Representatives prior to his election as secretary of state.
“I just learned that former State Rep. Alvin Holmes passed away today,” Merrill said on social media. “I enjoyed the privilege of serving with him from 2010-14. There was never a dull moment whenever he was in the Chamber. I appreciated him for his candor & for his desire to work on behalf of his constituents!”
Holmes was a member of the Hutchinson Missionary Baptist Church, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Montgomery Improvement Association, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Alabama Southern Christian Leadership Conference Board, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He has one daughter, Veronica.