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Opinion | Don’t be fooled: The plan to kill the Alabama School Board is about money, not helping kids and teachers

Josh Moon

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On Thursday, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh summed up Alabama governance quite nicely in an eight-page bill and a one-page press release.

The bill, filed by Marsh, would effectively kill the state school board, replacing it with an appointed bunch of bureaucrats who would be beholden the clowns who operate the State House. The press release from Ivey’s office announced her support for this idiotic plan, because Alabama ranks “at the bottom of just about every educational ranking you can find.”

This is the equivalent of me driving my truck without oil for days on end and then blaming engine for the resulting problems.

In other words, this is the perfect example of Alabama governance.

For decades now, politicians in this state have thumbed their noses at a public education system that is fully funded and equitable for all children. For God’s sakes, the racist funding mechanism that ensured black kids wouldn’t be educated at the expense of wealthy, white land owners is STILL in our state constitution and STILL largely the way we fund our schools.

We have some of the worst compensated teachers in America. Even if you weigh cost of living in those salaries.

Our per-pupil funding remains stuck around 2008 levels, which was the year the bottom fell out of the American economy and everyone went broke.

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As other states poured money back into the schools after they recovered from the crash, Alabama found … other uses for that money.

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And to make matters worse, when Republicans took over the Legislature in 2010, the first thing they did was set out on a crusade to vilify teachers in order to justify jacking up their insurance rates and cutting into their retirement benefits.

Remember that? Remember when all you heard for months on end was how teachers “only work part of the year”? Remember how they talked about teachers’ super low insurance rates and how that was just unfair — forgetting that the decent benefits package was one of the few things drawing competent professionals into such a low-paying, high-stress career?

We lost teachers by the thousands after that charade, which explains why there’s now a teacher shortage that’s so severe there’s a bill this session that would allow non-certified teachers to teach for six years.

And then there are the outright attacks on public education funding, starting with the Alabama Accountability Act. This little gem siphons millions out of the public ed system and hands it to private schools that don’t have to adhere to one-tenth the scrutiny of a public school.

And just to make sure the act is as awful as possible, it allocates more money per pupil to go to the private school than would be allocated for the same student to attend public school.

Then there’s the charter school law that sends millions more to schools being operated by for-profit companies. In some cases, the charter school commission has ignored the law and approved charters that were so sketchy that a national authorizer group refused to recommend them.

And that’s before we even get to the ridiculously low property tax rates and paltry local funding for most districts.

We have teachers in this state taking their own toilet paper to school. Parents routinely provide basic supplies for the entire school. I have cell phone video from teachers in Alabama schools showing more than 40 kids in some classrooms. They don’t even have desks for all of them.

There are shortages of books. Decent technology in classrooms is a dream for all but the wealthiest districts. Many schools lack access to broadband services. In some rural schools in the Black Belt this year, they went without water service on some days.

We’ve resisted the expansion of Medicaid, which means many poor children in this state go to school sick or miss numerous days because they lack proper preventative care and early care. We have a ridiculously high threshold for qualifying for social services in Alabama, which means many children arrive at schools hungry, and then stay that way.

Fixing any of these problems would make a HUGE difference in Alabama’s educational rankings. And more importantly, it would make a huge difference in the lives of Alabama’s school children.  

But that’s not what this is really about. Del Marsh and Kay Ivey aren’t dumb people. They know the reality of this state. They know what teachers face. Hell, Ivey has served on the school board she wants to dismantle for two years now.

This is, as always, about money.

Public education in Alabama still has some money. And it’s like a giant, glistening pool of cash that’s just beckoning our greed-soaked politicians. All of that money being wasted on just teaching kids, when it could be going to private business, lining someone’s pockets, kicking back campaign contributions and buying someone a new lake house.

This is about charter schools and private schools. It’s about tech schools and employee training for private businesses.

But mostly, it’s just about money.

They’ll do anything to get their hands on it. Including trying to convince you that they can pick a school board better than you can.

 

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