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Opinion | Is the Business Council getting out of the education picture?

As we reported back in July, longtime head of the Business Council of Alabama, Billy Canary, was ousted from his position after months of high stakes politicking by some of Alabama major companies.

His replacement will be Katie Britt, who is presently chief of staff for Senator Richard Shelby. As explained in this article by the Alabama Political Reporter, she was selected by the BCA executive committee for the top job in October and all that is left is a vote by the full board of directors.

But here is what really caught my attention in the article:

 “It is also believed that the executive committee wants to pull back from some of the group’s programs like Business in Education, an arm of BCA started to compete with the Alabama Education Association.

“BCA has to get back to its core mission,” said a prominent supporter. “BCA needs to concentrate its efforts on promoting business, not frivolous power grabs.”

I’ve made no pretense of my feelings about BCA and some of their education initiatives.  Just check out articles here and here. And the fact I was willing to say that the emperor had no clothes is what prompted the BCA to come after me hard during my campaign for the Montgomery school board last spring. Canary gave my primary opponent $250 and Jay Love, who is finance chairman of the Business Education Alliance, chipped in $1,500.

BCA also spent major PAC funds on state school board races in 2014 and 2016. Like several hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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Canary once worked at the White House in the administration of the first President Bush. And he is a true believer in the education reform efforts promoted by Jeb Bush. Jeb is president and chairman of the ExcellinEd Foundation that is a major promoter of things like charter schools, vouchers, tax credit scholarships, etc. The fact that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomburg Philanthropies and the Walton Foundation have given this group more than $1 million each is ample testimony about their agenda.

And under Canary, BCA was all about the same things. They made a big deal each February of promoting a “school choice” rally in Montgomery and they were an unabashed cheerleader for Bob Riley’s Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund. I will never forget sitting in a legislative committee meeting when BCA told everyone how wonderful the Alabama Accountability Act is.

While I do hope this BCA agenda bites the dust, I also think they could be a positive force for public education in this state. Goodness knows we need all the help we can get.
But before they tackle anything they should spend a lot more time talking to honest-to-goodness educators. You know like those who are principals and teachers and understand our challenges far better that people who work in big offices in tall buildings.

Principals are key to good schools. But too often we do not give them the professional development they desperately need. BCA  could make a huge contribution to this state by developing some pilot PD programs for principals. Or how about using their vast network of business contacts by encouraging their members to get involved in local school systems? The list could go on and on.

I do not know Katie Britt. I certainly wish her well and look forward to meeting her in the near-future.


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