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Committee approves bill to repeal Alabama’s Common Core standards

Charlie Walker

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Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh introduced a bill, SB119, into legislative committee on Wednesday that would indefinitely repeal Common Core standards and all of its practices in Alabama public schools.

Common Core, also known by its state version, Alabama College- and Career-Ready Standards, has been a point of controversy among legislators and educators since its adoption in November 2010.

The bill, currently unamended, would require the State Board of Education to replace the Common Core Standards for Math and English Language Arts with the courses of study in place immediately prior to the adoption of the Common Core Standards, pending the adoption of new standards by the board.

Speaking to the committee, Marsh referenced his past support of Common Core.

“Everyone in the room knows I’m the guy that stood in front of doing away with Common Core a couple of years ago,” Marsh said. “I was on the education committee to address this.”

He now says he’s ready to, “clear the field and move forward with education. I’ll be down here next week to meet with educator groups and see what we can do.”

Marsh provided NAEP test scores to encourage backing for his bill.

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In 2017, seven years following the implementation of Common Core, the National Assessment of Educational Progress scored Alabama eighth graders as 46th in the nation in reading, and they were scored as 48th in the nation in mathematics.

Marsh also mentioned that financially, “we have spent, as of 2010, 500 million more dollars in the foundation program, and we have less children in the education system today, and we’ve still got these kinds of scores. We’ve got to do something.”

Sen. Vivian Figures questioned Sen. Marsh’s bill in committee and asked if Common Core was truly the “silver bullet” that was causing these failing test scores in Alabama schools.

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“Before making a decision on anything, I’d like to hear all the sides of the issue,” Figures said. “And I really would like to hear  — I’m surprised there isn’t a public hearing on this bill as it has been in the past. I would like to hear from those other entities who have come before this committee in years past to see where they are. I don’t think that in terms of the statistics you gave us are strictly those statistics because of Common Core. I think there are a lot of other things that go with that.”

Marsh said his concern isn’t that he hates Common Core, but that he’s worried it’s not effective for Alabama.

“It’s not working, and we have got to do something,” Marsh said. “This is critical. I currently believe our next hurdle in Alabama, if we don’t address this education issue, it’s going to catch up with us. I’m going to work with the education committee anyway I can to get us to the right path. This is the wrong path.”

Speaking with APR, Figures said lawmakers should take it slow.

“Before a hasty decision is made to repeal Alabama College and Career Ready Standards, we need to make sure that we are dealing with all of the facts and figures, and not making it a political football,” Figures said. “Sen. Marsh is moving to repeal it because he says that the test scores have been consistently low. There are a variety of reasons that Alabama scores remain low, and yet we have seen progress.”

Common Core has been a target of Republican and conservative ire for years. The plan was pushed by the National Governor’s Association and championed by the states. It is a set of voluntary goals and best practices for teaching K-12 students in English and mathematics.

Common Core is, in fact, not really a common curriculum. It is a set of benchmarks that detail what students should know by the end of each year.

State school boards were largely responsible for approving and implementing the standards, but former President Barack Obama’s Department of Education did rework federal rules so that adherence to Common Core was a de facto requirement for states to maintain control over federal education dollars.

But states had other options. Texas and Virginia wrote their own standards and maintained eligibility for federal Race to the Top grants. By 2015, Congress barred the federal government from tying federal grants to adherence to Common Core standards.

Gov. Kay Ivey has voiced her support for Marsh’s bill.

“As a former educator and president of the Alabama State Board of Education, I know how important it is to have good course materials to teach,” Ivey said. “Efforts like this should not be taken lightly, and I believe we should be deliberate in determining a course of study for our state. I support Senator Marsh’s efforts to ensure that headlines about Alabama ranking last or close to last in education become things of the past.”

The favorable report on SB119 was unanimous and is expected to be heard on the Senate floor in the upcoming weeks.

 

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Corruption

Former State Sen. David Burkette pleads guilty, avoids jail

Josh Moon

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Former Alabama Sen. David Burkette

Former State Sen. David Burkette will avoid jail time and be sentenced to a 30-day suspended sentence as part of a plea deal reached on Monday. 

Burkette, who pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Fair Campaign Practices Act, will also have to pay a $3,000 fine and serve 12 months of probation as part of the deal. He was sentenced in Montgomery Circuit Court on Monday after being charged two weeks ago with failing to deposit more than $3,600 in contributions into campaign accounts — a misdemeanor.

He also resigned his seat in the Alabama Senate as part of the plea deal. 

“I’m just happy to still be here,” Burkette told the court following his sentencing, according to multiple media reports. 

The former senator suffered a stroke in 2018 and has been confined to a wheelchair since. His current health status played a role in his sentence considerations. 

The charges against Burkette stem from a series of complaints filed against him with the Alabama Ethics Commission — all of them related to various issues during his time on the Montgomery City Council. The charge for which he pleaded guilty occurred in 2015.

The Ethics Commission referred numerous charges to the Alabama attorney general’s office, according to sources familiar with the investigation of Burkette, but the attorney general’s office elected to charge Burkette with only the misdemeanor as part of the deal that saw him resign. 

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“Candidates for public office at the state, county and municipal levels must comply with the State’s Fair Campaign Practices Act,” said Attorney General Steve Marshall. “Personally profiting from campaign funds erodes public confidence in the system and will not be tolerated.”

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Legislature

Former state senator arrested on charges of violating campaign finance laws

Josh Moon

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Former State Sen. David Burkette

David Burkette has been officially arrested. The former state senator from Montgomery, who resigned on Tuesday as part of a plea deal with the Alabama Attorney General’s Office, was formally charged on Thursday with a single misdemeanor count of violating the Fair Campaign Practices Act. 

According to a press release from the AG’s office, Burkette’s charge stems from him depositing campaign donations into his personal account instead of into his campaign accounts, as required by the FCPA. The alleged crimes occurred in 2015 and 2016 when Burkette was serving on the Montgomery City Council. 

The complaint alleged that, in 2015 and 2016 while running for the Montgomery City Council, Burkette intentionally failed to deposit $3,625.00 in campaign contributions into his campaign checking account, and instead, deposited or cashed those contributions into or against his personal bank account,” the AG’s release stated. 

The single misdemeanor charge is surprising given the lengthy list of allegations against Burkette submitted to the Alabama Ethics Commission. APR obtained a copy of the original report, which was submitted in October 2018. 

In addition to more than $40,000 in allegedly improperly spent council discretionary funds that were flagged by auditors for the city of Montgomery, Burkette was also accused of inappropriately donating tens of thousands more to suspect charities and two sororities, including his wife’s.

The Ethics Commission referred Burkette’s case to the AG’s Office in October 2019.

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Legislature

Pro-Growth Conference kicks off with Doug Jones, discussions on COVID impact and a living wage

Josh Moon

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Sen. Doug Jones speaks on the floor of the U.S. Senate. (VIA CSPAN)

What happens if you just give impoverished citizens $500 per month — no strings attached? Good things, it turns out. The people use that income to buy food, medicine and basic necessities for life. They take a day off work if they’re sick and actually get treatment. They quit a second, hourly-wage job that they are overqualified for and instead work towards obtaining a better, higher-paying primary job. 

These are things that the city of Stockton, California, has learned in its year-long living wage program.

The program, while limited in size — only 125 people — has proven to be a larger success than city officials had hoped, and it has opened their eyes to a new, more proactive style of governance, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs told Alabama elected officials. 

Tubbs was the featured speaker on Tuesday at the first day of the Pro-Growth Policy Conference, a three-day forum for Alabama elected leaders with guest speakers from around the country offering tips and best practices. 

The first day of the conference began with an opening talk from Sen. Doug Jones, who pressed the need for Medicaid expansion and how expansion has aided other red states. Jones also highlighted the need for broadband expansion and talked about a bill he has in the Senate that would create a broadband main office and dish out about $20 million in money for affordable access.

“Now (with COVID), we know how needed it really is,” Jones said. “We see the homework gap that we have. We know there’s a need for more telemedicine. My bill would consolidate in one office all of the monies for broadband … and provide affordable access.”

Jones said the current COVID pandemic has highlighted just how badly we need better access to broadband in Alabama, and a major area of concern right now is healthcare. 

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Highlighting that point, Brandon Garrett, the chief operating officer of the National Minority Quality Forum, and Dr. LaTasha Lee, the vice-president of social and clinical research, demonstrated the many ways in which inequality in health care and health care options is harming impoverished communities. 

A number of factors play into that inequality, but a lack of access to updated means of communication and tools is one of the biggest. 

“(Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) said that, ‘Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane because it results in physical death,’” Lee said. “That’s what we’re seeing currently with COVID-19 and sickle cell disease. These two diseases are affecting the minority community and causing death, and they make a great argument that such health care disparities really are a social justice issue.”

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Correcting such issues was one of the goals of Stockton’s living wage experiment. Now, Tubbs said, a working person can afford to stay home or get tested if they’re feeling symptomatic, whereas before that person — scared of missing a paycheck or losing the job altogether — might come to work with the virus and infect an entire workplace. 

That alone, Tubbs said, has restored dignity to a number of residents. 

“This is not easy, especially with budgets the way they are,” Tubbs said. “But I don’t know how we continue to live with the status quo as it is.

“I think part of being a leader, as we are, is having the courage to do something about what we’re seeing. We have to be able to do that.”

The Pro-Growth Policy Conference will run both Wednesday and Thursday, 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Wednesday’s round of conferences will focus on state grants, economic development around the state and what the 2021 legislative session might look like. 

On Thursday, the event will wrap up with talks by the Equal Justice Initiative’s Bryan Stevenson and Alabama Congresswoman Terri Sewell.

 

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Elections

Russell Bedsole wins Republican runoff in HD49

Brandon Moseley

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House District 49 Republican nominee Russell Bedsole

As of press time, it appears that Russell Bedsole has won a narrow victory over Mimi Penhale in the special Republican primary runoff election in Alabama House District 49.

At press time, Bedsole had a 166-vote lead in unofficial results on the secretary of state’s website.

“We won,” Bedsole declared on social media.

Bedsole is an Alabaster city councilman and a Shelby County Sheriff’s Department captain.

“Sadly, tonight did not turn out in my favor. Despite the loss, I feel like God truly used this opportunity to help me grow in my walk with Him, and gave me the opportunity to increase my testimony,” Penhale said. “I feel so incredibly blessed by the people I have met on this campaign and the experiences I have had. I am disappointed in the outcome, but what an honor it is to have the confidence of 1,183 people across House District 49! Thank you!!”

Russell Bedsole had 1,249 votes, or 51.36 percent, to Mimi Penhale’s 1,183, or 48.64 percent, to win the House District 49 Republican primary runoff.

There were just 2,432 votes cast in the special primary runoff election. Shelby County was the decisive factor in the election. Bedsole won Shelby County with 762 votes, or 71.42 percent, to Penale’s 305 votes.

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Penhale carried Chilton and Bibb Counties, but could not overcome Bedsole’s strong performance in Shelby County.

The provisional ballots will be counted on Sept. 8, 2020, and certification of votes will occur on Sept. 16, 2020.

Bedsole will face Democratic nominee Sheryl Patton in the special general election on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020.

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The vacancy in House District 49 was created when State Rep. April Weaver announced her resignation to accept a presidential appointment as a regional director in the Department of Health and Human Services.

In a statement, the Alabama Republican Party thanked “each of the candidates that qualified for offering themselves up for service in the Alabama State House of Representatives.”

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