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Education budget advances out of committee

Brandon Moseley

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The Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee gave a favorable report to the fiscal year 2020 Education Trust Fund budget, which has been languishing in the Committee for the last three weeks.

Senate Bill 199, the Education Trust Fund budget, is sponsored by state Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur.

The state of Alabama has a bizarre accounting system where schools and universities are in their own separate budget, the ETF. Prisons, Medicaid, the courts, state troopers, mental health, public health, the Department of Human Resources. forensics, and dozens of state agencies are funde in the state general fund (SGF). To make things even more complicated fuel taxes go into a separate fund, the road and bridge fund, which funds the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT). State agencies bring in $three to four billion in off budget revenue and spending; then the state uses its $13 to $14 billion in combined spending to draw down $billions more in federal matching dollars.

The Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee is tasked with taking the governor’s education budget and then accepting its principles or rejecting parts of the governor’s budget.

No governor has their budgets completely adopted by the legislature and this year was no exception.

When the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) was reauthorized, Congress voted to revert to an 80 percent federal: 20 percent state match. The Obama administration had previously paid for it 100 percent. It was thought that CHIP would be a $115 million a year hit to the general fund, split between Alabama Medicaid and the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH); but Gov. Kay Ivey (R) moved the largest portion of that from the Department of Public Health to the education budget. When the House passed the general fund budget three weeks ago, they accepted Gov. Ivey’s budget recommendation. On Tuesday, Orr took the opposite position striking CHIP’s $36 million ETF line item out. That would have grown to $89 million in the 2021 budget.

“I asked her not to do that,” Orr told the Committee.

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State Senator Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham said, “CHIPS has no business in the Education Trust Fund.”

“This was one of our decision,” Orr said. “With 106 million carried forward, my thinking was that they (the SGF) can absorb a carry forward this year. That may be different in 2021.”

The move gave the Senate another $36 million to spread out to the various ETF programs. The ETF was already soaring with money due to the booming economy. All state income tax dollars are earmarked by the Alabama Constitution for the ETF.

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CLAS, which trains and mentors principals, got an increase.

“The principals are the backbone of the schools,” Orr said.

The committee accepted Gov. Ivey’s request that $25 million additional funds be spent on Pre-K.

The Alabama School Readiness Alliance supported the Gov. and the Committee on this.

“Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program is the nation’s number one ranked state pre-kindergarten program for quality, but the amount of funding currently appropriated leaves two thirds of Alabama’s four-year-olds unable to participate,” said Bob Powers, the president of the Eufaula Agency and a co-chair of the Alabama School Readiness Alliance Pre-K Task Force. “Expanding access to Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program is not only the right thing to do; it is also the smart thing to do. We thank the Senate Finance & Taxation Education Committee for prioritizing the $25 million expansion, and we encourage the full Senate to follow suit.”

Thirty-two percent of Alabama 4-year-olds currently receive state-sponsored First Class Pre-K services.

Orr said that, “Computer Science for Alabama was a request by the state department (of Education).”

The budget included a 350 percent increase for charter schools.

Smitherman said, “Why are we funding them to tear up our public schools. I have got a problem with that.”

The budget restored a line item for PALS, people against a littered state. PALS teaches children not to litter. That line item had been zeroed out years ago.
Symphony in Education got its own line item.

“Board Certified Teachers needed to increase that to allow for test taking,” Orr said.

The state has a pilot program to combat bullying in the schools.

“We needed to do something about bullying across the state,” Orr said. “Suicide in many cases is a result of bullying. This is a new effort for the state.”

The Robotics pilot program got an increase. “I have heard that it was a big success,” Orr said. “I believe it was a good success for districts across the state.”

“Scholars bowl got $100,000,” Orr said. “The Gifted grant program that is a bill that we passed last year where the schools apply for grants. The state department runs it.”

This was the largest budget in the history of the state for K-12 education; but Orr said that higher education funding, despite a big increase this year, is still not at 2008 levels.

Transportation got more money to get high mileage buses off of the roads. The Committee gave a favorable report, despite some misgivings about the formula dividing the highest education money between the institutions.

The ETF could be considered by the full Senate as early as Thursday.

The Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee will have to figure out how they want to address the CHIP program in the SGF budget after Tuesday’s decision by the Education Committee.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Education

Alabama’s First Class Pre-K program gets more national attention

The article analyzed a recent study that found that students who attended the program were “statistically significantly more likely” to be proficient in both math and reading than those who did not.

Micah Danney

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The state’s First Class Pre-K program gives children advantages in math and reading that last into middle school, far longer than the gains studied in other high-quality pre-K programs, according to an article published in the International Journal of Child Care and Education Policy.

The article analyzed a recent study that found that students who attended the program were “statistically significantly more likely” to be proficient in both math and reading than those who did not.

While programs like Head Start and Tennessee’s pre-K program have been shown to lead to significant educational improvements when children enter kindergarten, those benefits appear to experience a “fadeout” within a year. 

The new research followed students through the 7th grade. Further research should examine the persistence of benefits through high school, according to the article, which was published by researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, ThinkData and the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education.

The research “is reassuring and supports accountability for continued investments and expansion,” the article concluded.

The journal that featured the article is a publication of the National Institute of Early Education Research at Rutgers University.

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Congress

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne announces new chief of staff

Eddie Burkhalter

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U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne

Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Alabama, on Friday announced that Seth Morrow will serve as his chief of staff.

“As we enter the last half of 2020, my office remains busy assisting constituents and advancing our legislative priorities. I know Seth shares my focus on finishing out my term in Congress strong, and he is well prepared to move into the Chief of Staff role,” Byrne said in a statement. “My staff and I will continue working hard every day to fight for the people of Southwest Alabama and advance our conservative agenda.”

Morrow is a native of Guntersville and has worked for Byrne since June 2014, serving as deputy chief of staff and communications director. 

“I am grateful for this opportunity, and I’m committed to ensuring our office maintains our first class service to the people of Southwest Alabama. Congressman Byrne has always had the hardest working team on Capitol Hill, and I know we will keep that tradition going,” Morrow said in a statement.

Morrow replaces Chad Carlough, who has held the position of Byrne’s chief of staff since March 2017. 

“Chad has very ably led our Congressional team over the last few years, and I join the people of Southwest Alabama in thanking him for his dedicated service to our state and our country,” Byrne said. 

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Crime

Alabama Department of Corrections investigating inmate death

Robert Earl Adams, 40, died on Aug. 5 and although no foul play is suspected, a department spokeswoman in a message to APR said the exact cause of death is pending an autopsy.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The Alabama Department of Corrections is investigating the death of an inmate at the Donaldson Correctional Facility.

Robert Earl Adams, 40, died on Aug. 5 and although no foul play is suspected, a department spokeswoman in a message to APR said the exact cause of death is pending an autopsy.

“While Adams’ exact cause of death is pending the results of a full autopsy, at the time of his passing inmate Adams was not exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, was not under quarantine following direct exposure to an inmate or staff member who previously had tested positive, and was not in medical isolation as a result of a positive COVID-19 test,” said ADOC spokeswoman Samantha Rose in the message.

Because Adams was not exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, he had not been tested, Rose said.

An ADOC worker who contacted APR Friday morning about the death, who asked not to be identified for fear of repercussions from ADOC administrators, said it’s suspected that Adams may have overdosed after being given a cigarette laced with a drug.

Adams is at least the sixteenth state inmate to die this year from either homicide, suspected drug overdose or suicide. Additionally, fifteen inmates and two prison workers have died after testing positive for COVID-19.

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Alabama GOP chair: “We expect our elected officials to follow the law” after Dismukes arrest

“Will Dismukes matter: We expect our elected officials, regardless of Party, to follow the laws of our state and nation,” Alabama GOP chair Terry Lathan said on Twitter.

Brandon Moseley

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State Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, has been arrested on the charge of felony theft.

Alabama Republican Party Chair Terry Lathan said Thursday that Alabamians expect their leaders to follow the law. Her comments came in response to news that an arrest warrant had been issued for State Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, on the charge of felony theft.

“Will Dismukes matter: We expect our elected officials, regardless of Party, to follow the laws of our state and nation,” Lathan said on Twitter. “No one is immune to these standards. It is very disappointing to hear of these allegations. This is now a legal matter and it must run its course.”

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, said Friday in a statement that Dismukes will get his day in court.

“As a former law enforcement officer, I have faith in the criminal justice process and trust that he will receive a full and fair hearing,” McCutcheon said. “Both Democrats and Republicans have been accused of similar crimes in the past, and we cannot tolerate such behavior whether the lawmaker involved has a D or an R beside their name.”

Dismukes has been charged by his former employer, a custom flooring company, of felony theft charges. Dismukes left that employer and started his own custom flooring company.

Dismukes, who is serving in his first term and is one of the youngest members of the Alabama Legislature, has been heavily criticized for his participation in a birthday party for Confederate Lt. General Nathan Bedford Forrest in Selma. Forrest was also the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

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The party in Selma occurred the same week that Congressman John Lewis’s funeral events were happening in Selma. Dismukes resigned his position at Valley Baptist Church when the Southern Baptists threatened to disassociate the Prattville Church if they retained Dismukes. He has defiantly refused to step down from the Legislature, but if convicted of a felony, he would be automatically removed from office.

Both Democrats and Republicans have called for Dismukes to resign from the Alabama House of Representatives over his being the chaplain of the Prattville Sons of Confederate Veterans and his Facebook post lauding Forrest. The investigation into the theft predates the controversies surrounding Dismukes’s glorification of the Confederacy and Forrest.

Republican State Sen. Clyde Chambliss, who also represents Prattville, has called on Dismukes to resign.

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“Since first being elected in 1996, I’ve had a policy of not publicly criticizing other elected officials, but at this time I am making an exception since Rep. Dismukes is MY state representative. He does not represent my views or the views of the vast majority of people of District 88,” Chambliss said. “The post is bad enough, the timing is even worse, but the real problem is that an elected official in 2020 would attend a celebration of the life of someone that led a group that terrorized and killed other human beings. He has had 24 hours to understand why people are so upset, but his interview on WSFA a few moments ago confirms that he is lacking in understanding and judgment — he should resign immediately.”

Alabama Democratic Party Chairman State Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, has repeatedly called for Dismukes to resign from the Alabama House of Representatives.

The Alabama Democratic Party recently said in a statement, “Will Dismukes is morally unfit for office. Republicans and Democrats statewide seem to agree. Unfortunately, despite the mounting calls for his immediate resignation, Will intends to stay in office and seek re-election without penalty from the Republican Party.”

“While Alabama Republicans hope this will be a distant memory when Dismukes runs for re-election in 2022, we are not going to let him off the hook,” the ADP wrote. “The Alabama Democratic Party is going to leverage every tool we have to send Will packing when he comes up for re-election in two years.”

“In our darkest hours in life there is still light in Christ!” Dismukes wrote on social media Wednesday. “As the storm continues to blow with heavy force, there is yet a peace that this too shall pass. I guess sometimes we find out if we have built our house on sand or the solid rock of Christ. Psalm 23.”

When Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, was indicted on 21 charges of felony ethics violations, he did not resign and actually remained speaker until a jury of his peers in Lee County convicted him on 12 counts.

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