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Bentley, Canary, Riley Plan to Control Education’s Future

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—In June, Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur) emailed members of the State Board of Education to encourage them to keep interim Superintendent Philip Cleveland, “a few more months to work on efficiency and effectiveness of the department and the programs.” But what Collins calls “efficiency and effectiveness of the department and the programs,” is part of a larger, darker plan to wrestle control of public education away from the State’s elected Board.

“The goal is ultimately is to put both K-12 and post-secondary under the Department of Commerce, because they see education as workforce training,” said an anonymous source with close ties to the education sector. In fact, several current education experts have privately stated the same, while at the same time accusing Gov. Robert Bentley of being a “useful tool,” for Billy Canary and former Gov. Bob Riley.

Speaking on background, a former BCA member said, “BCA wants its hands on education, and Riley wants his money in the till, and amazingly, Bentley is their useful tool.”

Collins is “the darling” of the Business Council of Alabama (BCA), who recently was awarded its Business Champion Award, “for her commitment to improving Alabama’s economic climate and education system.” At the ceremony Canary said, “The Business Champion Award is testimony to Rep. Collins’ unwavering commitment to improving education for all students in Alabama and for providing a positive environment for job creation.”

Collins sponsored the House version of SB45, the Alabama School Choice and Student Opportunity Act, and carried the Senate version in the House.

In an email, Collins lauds the work of Jeana Ross, Gov. Robert Bentley’s Cabinet for Early Childhood Education, writing, “I’ve worked closely with Jeana Ross and Pre-K and she has my utmost respect, her credentials are impressive, but what she has accomplished with her agency is above all expectations… Her willingness to serve our state in this way is a true opportunity for our state.”

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Even while Mike Hubbard was on trial for felony ethics violations, his closest allies, Canary and Dax Swatek, were soliciting Bentley’s help to make Ross the permanent Superintendent. Mrs. Ross is the mother of John Ross, a partner at Swatek, Howe and Ross, who were part of Hubbard’s kitchen cabinet as revealed at his criminal trial. Mrs. Ross holds a Master of Arts Degree in Education Leadership from the University of Alabama and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Early Childhood Education from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, according to her bio of the Governor’s official website.

Ross, who has never served as superintendent of any school, has applied to become State Superintendent.

In March of this year, Bentley appointed her chair of Alabama Every Student Succeeds Act Implementation Committee, which he created by Executive Order 16. The committee will, “determine best practices for the implementation of academic standards, testing, accountability, school improvement, and teacher quality,” according to Bentley’s order. But the real purpose, according to those with intimate knowledge of the overall goal, is to diminish the power held by the elected board, to the end that education planning will be controlled by a few elites with close ties to Canary and Riley.

At the end, Collins takes an opportunity to disrespect former Assistant Superintendent Dr. Craig Pouncy, who has also applied for education’s top spot.

“Lastly, I’ve only been associated with one person that actually had a letter written to Dr. Bice from the Speaker, asking him to not send a person back to the State House, and it was Dr. Pouncy. I hope you do not consider him, he does not fit the priorities you set as a Board,” wrote Collins.

However, in his report, Larry Lee confirmed with former Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice that no such letter was ever received. Lee writes, “she opposes Pouncey because former Speaker Mike Hubbard wrote a letter to Bice telling him to not let Pouncey come back to the Statehouse.” He further wrote, “And what was the ‘crime’ Collins is concerned about? During a legislative hearing, Pouncey stood up for public education when a legislator attacked public schools.”

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Those close to the process say this is just the tip of a very ugly iceberg that hopes to dominate State education through any means possible. “If we can shed the light of day on what they are doing, it may not scare them but it could, maybe draw some attention before it’s too late.”

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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