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Opinion | Remembering Feb. 28, 2013, and the politics of contempt

Feb. 28, 2013 was just another late winter’s day in Montgomery.  The temperature was in the 50’s, the Legislature was in session and the State Board of Education was having a work session.

State Superintendent Tommy Bice was at the work session with no clue that Hell was about to break loose two blocks away at the Statehouse.

This was the day Senate Majority Leader Del Marsh and Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard threw civility and partisanship to the wind and assumed the roles of Co-Dictators.  Their intent was to, come Hell or high water, force a bill through the House and Senate that would offer major corporate tax breaks, divert money from the Education Trust Fund that funds public schools and provide a windfall for private schools.

And they hid behind the ruse of “helping poor kids trapped in struggling schools by their zip code.”

Here is how it unfolded:  The House and Senate had both passed a bill dealing with school flexibility that the entire education community agreed to.  But because of differences in the House and Senate versions of the bill, it had to go to conference committee.  This was four Republicans and two Democrats.

The Republicans dismissed themselves from the meeting and after a period to time, came back with a different bill that set up Scholarship Granting Organizations and diverted money from public schools to private school scholarships.  The process made a mockery out of normal law making.

It is often said that there are two things no one wants to do, 1) watch sausage being made  or 2) watch legislation being passed.  Growing up on a farm, I have made sausage.  It was never as bloody as the spectacle that unfolded on Feb. 28, 2013.

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Veteran Associated Press reporter Kim Chandler covered this story.  Here are portions of what she reported:

“Republicans dropped a legislative bombshell tonight as they slammed through a dramatically revamped education bill that will give tax credits for families at “failing schools” to send their children to private school or another public school.

Republicans heralded it as a historic day for education and life-altering for children stuck in poorly performing schools. But tempers boiled over as Democrats called the maneuver “sleaziness” and a “bait and switch.”

“This is historic for the children of this state,” Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said over the shouts of angry Democrats.

“You went behind closed doors… This is not democracy. This is hypocrisy,” Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery, shouted at Marsh.

State Superintendent Tommy Bice withdrew his support from the legislation after the change.

NONE of the added language to the Flex Bill has been vetted with us at the State Department/State Board of Education. There are SIGNIFICANT negative financial implications for all of Alabama’s public schools. THIS IS NO LONGER THE BILL I GAVE MY SUPPORT TO!” said a statement by Bice that was distributed to lawmakers.”.

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This statement was read on the floor of both the House and Senate.  It was ignored by leadership.

In fact, after the bill passed, Marsh said that educators were not asked for input because they would have opposed it.  Talk about a slap in the face to the state superintendent and all educators in Alabama.

The chairman of the Business Council of Alabama put out a statement calling the bill’s passage “a courageous move.”

A courageous move?  Are you kidding me?  It was deception and deceit.  It was Del Marsh sneaking up behind Tommy Bice with a baseball bat in his hand and knocking him senseless when he wasn’t looking.  This was cowardice–not courage..

A longtime lobbyist called it “chaos” and one of the sorriest episodes ever seen at the statehouse.

Now, six years later we know AAA has diverted more than $100 million from the Education Trust Fund; that research by the University of Alabama shows no academic advantage for students who have gotten a private school scholarship; we know we are taking money from each of the 722,000 public school students in the state to provide scholarships for only 3,668 private school students; and that there are 2,000 less students on scholarships today than there were in 2014.

Yet there is not a shortage of sanctimonious people who forget how the accountability act came into being, who forget the deceit and deception of Feb. 28, 2013 and accuse those who have seen this charade for what it truly is as “turning” their back on needy children.  They want to re-write history and act like Feb. 28, 2012 never happened.

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Funny I have never heard one of these people mention that there are 163,000 black students in public schools who can’t afford to buy lunch.  That we are taking resources away from these children to help a handful of others.  Where is the equity in this?

As interest in repealing AAA grows, it is important we remember the circumstances that birthed this monster.  It was wrong.  It was underhanded.  It was devious.  And all the sanctimony one can muster will never mask this reality.

Feb. 28, 2013 was NEVER about “poor kids trapped in struggling schools by their zip code.”  It was about political power and greed and ignoring the Golden Rule.

More and more superintendents and school boards are remembering this and showing they are willing to fight for their students by taking a stand against the accountability act.


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