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Opinion | The colossal charter mess in Montgomery

Larry Lee

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It is nigh impossible to figure out what is going on with charter schools in Montgomery.  Whether it is by design, deception or a bushel of inaptitude, the situation is clearly defying sections of the charter law and thumbs its nose at what is legal and what is not.

The charter law was passed in 2015.  We were told it was the best such law in the country.  But as is often the case with educational policy cobbled together by our supermajority, words and reality seldom agree.

Under the law, local school systems can opt to become a charter authorizer, meaning that charter applications that impact a school system must first get approval from the locals.  (However, if turned down at this level, applicants can then appeal to the state charter commission.)  Very few local school boards went this route.  One reason being that local authorizers are required to send out RFPs seeking charters to come into their system.

(As one over-the-mountain superintendent told me, “We have excellent schools, why should we recruit competition for them?”)

Initially, the Montgomery school board voted to become an authorizer and they commenced paperwork, which is a very involved task.

I served on the Montgomery school board for three months in late 2018.  One of the things I tried to find out was what happened to the Montgomery effort to become an authorizer.  I learned that while the process was begun, the initial application was not approved by the state and sent back for more work.  However, by this time the Montgomery board, having learned more about what being an authorizer entailed, changed their mind and did not complete the application.

But today the charter commission says that Montgomery is an authorizer, however efforts to get the paperwork that support this contention,  have been futile.

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Enter LEAD Academy, the Montgomery charter that opened last August and has been mired in controversy and legal actions.

LEAD applied to the state charter commission for approval.  Which begs the question, if MPS is a local authorizer, why didn’t LEAD apply to them?

The initial LEAD application was reviewed by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, a group in Chicago used by the state charter commission since they opened shop.  They recommended that LEAD be denied, that the application was weak in all  major categories.

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The charter law clearly spells out that authorizers, such as the state charter commission, shall decline to approve weak or inadequate charter applications.

But in spite of this, the charter commission ignored the NACSA recommendation and approved LEAD Academy.  (They did the same thing with Woodland Prep in Washington County.)

In March, 2018, the Alabama Education Association sued contending that the charter commission’s vote did not include a majority of its membership.  This action did not hold up in court and LEAD was allowed to go forward.

Enter the Montgomery Education Foundation and their plan to convert existing public schools in Montgomery to charter schools.

Unlike LEAD,  this application was submitted to MPS.  However, we once again see that the charter law is not being followed.

The law states: A local school board may convert a non-charter public school to a public charter school.  After identifying the non-charter public school it has decided to convert to a public charter school, a local school board shall release a request for proposals, allowing education service providers the opportunity to submit applications.  Provide evidence of the education services provider’s success in serving student populations similar to the targeted population…..”

The decision to convert three public schools to charters WAS NOT the board’s decision.  This came from the foundation.  In addition, the foundation has NO experience in school management.

Now another potential charter is on the scene.  They will hold a public hearing at Carver high school at 6 p.m. on Jan. 9 before the local  board.  If MPS is not an authorizer, they can not legally approve a charter application.  In addition, who will grade this application to see if it has merit?  MPS does not have this capacity.

On top of all of this, what about the situation at LEAD where they are being sued by their former principal for wrongful termination and where a number of faculty have left since school began?   All school systems, including charters, are supposed to post their financial info, including check registers, on-line monthly.  Why hasn’t LEAD done this?

Why did LEAD’s education consultant, Soner Tarim of Houston, leave them?  His so-called expertise was a major part of LEAD’s application to the state.  This change in structure should be spelled out in a new contract with the state.  Has this been done?

It is a mess of the highest order.  There are way too many questions and not near enough answers.  The taxpayers of Alabama are footing the bill for all of this.  They deserve answers.

The charter law gives authority over charter schools to the state department of education.  Here is what you find on page 24, line 18 of the law:

The department shall oversee the performance and effectiveness of all authorizers established under this act.  Persistently unsatisfactory performance of the portfolio of the public charter schools of an authorizer, a pattern of well-founded complaints about the authorizer or its public charter schools, or other objective circumstances may trigger a special review by the department.

In other words, where is the state school superintendent and the state school board?  This mess is squarely in their lap.

 

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Opinion | Amendment 4 is an opportunity to clean up the Alabama Constitution

Gerald Johnson and John Cochran

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The 1901 but current Alabama Constitution has been amended about 950 times, making it by far the world’s longest constitution. The amendments have riddled the Constitution with redundancies while maintaining language and provisions — for example, poll taxes — that reflect the racist intent of those who originally wrote it.

A recompilation will bring order to the amendments and remove obsolete language. While much of this language is no longer valid, the language is still in the document and has been noted and used by other states when competing with Alabama for economic growth opportunities.

The need for recompilation and cleaning of Alabama’s Constitution has been long recognized.

In 2019, the Legislature unanimously adopted legislation, Amendment 4, to provide for its recompilation. Amendment 4 on the Nov. 3 general election ballot will allow the non-partisan Legislative Reference Service to draft a recompiled and cleaned version of the Constitution for submission to the Legislature.

While Amendment 4 prohibits any substantive changes in the Constitution, the LRS will remove duplication, delete no longer legal provisions and racist language, thereby making our Constitution far more easily understood by all Alabama citizens.

Upon approval by the Legislature, the recompiled Constitution will be presented to Alabama voters in November 2022 for ratification.

Amendment 4 authorizes a non-partisan, broadly supported, non-controversial recompilation and much-needed, overdue cleaning up of our Constitution.

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On Nov. 3, 2020, vote “Yes” on Amendment 4 so the work can begin.

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Opinion | Auburn Student Center named for Harold Melton, first Auburn SGA president of color

Elizabeth Huntley and James Pratt

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Auburn University's Student Center (VIA AUBURN UNIVERSITY)

The year 1987 was a quiet one for elections across America but not at Auburn. That was the year Harold Melton, a student in international studies and Spanish, launched and won a campaign to become the first African American president of the Auburn Student Government Association, winning with more than 65 percent of the vote.

This was just the first of many important roles Harold Melton would play at Auburn and in an extraordinarily successful legal career in his home state of Georgia, where his colleagues on the Georgia Supreme Court elected him as chief justice.

Last week, the Auburn Board of Trustees unanimously named the Auburn student center for Justice Melton, the first building on campus that honors a person of color. The decision was reached as part of a larger effort to demonstrate Auburn’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

In June, Auburn named two task forces to study diversity and inclusion issues. We co-chair the task force for the Auburn Board with our work taking place concurrently with that of a campus-based task force organized by President Jay Gogue. Other members of the Board task force are retired Army general Lloyd Austin, bank president Bob Dumas, former principal and educator Sarah B. Newton and Alabama Power executive Quentin P. Riggins.

These groups are embarking on a process that offers all Auburn stakeholders a voice, seeking input from students, faculty, staff, alumni, elected officials and more. It will include a fact-based review of Auburn’s past and present, and we will provide specific recommendations for the future.

We are committed to making real progress based on solid facts. Unlike other universities in the state, Auburn has a presence in all 67 counties through the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Our review has included not only our campuses in Auburn and Montgomery but all properties across our state. To date, we have found no monuments or statues recognizing the history that has divided our country. We will continue our fact-finding mission with input from the academic and research community.

Our university and leadership are committed to doing the right thing, for the right reasons, at the right time. We believe now is the right time, and we are already seeing results.

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In addition to naming the student center for the Honorable Harold Melton, we have taken steps to highlight the significant role played by Harold Franklin, the student who integrated Auburn. We are working to enhance the historical marker that pays tribute to Mr. Franklin, and we are raising its visibility in campus tours as we pay homage to his contributions as our first African American student. Last month, we awarded Mr. Franklin, now 86 and with a Ph.D., a long-overdue master’s degree for the studies he completed at Auburn so many years ago.

We likewise endorsed a student-led initiative creating the National Pan-Hellenic Council Legacy Plaza, which will recognize the contributions of Black Greek organizations and African American culture on our campus.

In the coming months, Auburn men and women will work together to promote inclusion to further enhance our student experience and build on our strength through diversity. The results of this work will be seen and felt throughout the institution in how we recruit our students, provide scholarships and other financial support and ensure a culture of inclusion in all walks of university life.

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Our goal is to identify and implement substantive steps that will make a real difference at Auburn, impact our communities and stand the test of time.

Naming the student center for Justice Melton is but one example. In response to this decision, he said, “Auburn University has already given me everything I ever could have hoped for in a university and more. This honor is beyond my furthest imagination.”

Our job as leaders at Auburn is more than honoring the Harold Meltons and Harold Franklins who played a significant role in the history of our university. It is also to create an inclusive environment that serves our student body and to establish a lasting legacy where all members of the Auburn Family reach their fullest potential in their careers and in life.

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Opinion | Alabama lags behind the nation in Census participation with deadline nearing

Paul DeMarco

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The United States Census is starting to wind down around the country with a Sept. 30 deadline for the national population to be completed. However, a United States District Court has recently ruled that the date may be extended another 30 days to allow more time for the census to take place.

Regardless of the deadline, Alabama has work to do when it comes to the census.

To date, the national average for participation around the country has been almost 65 percent for the census.

Unfortunately, Alabama residents are providing data to the census at a lower percentage, around some 61 percent of the state population.

There is already concern among state leaders that if that number does not reach above 70 percent, then the state will lose a seat in Congress, a vote in the electoral college and millions of federal dollars that come to the state every year.

The percentage of participation has varied widely around the state, from a high of 76 percent in Shelby County to a low of 36 percent in neighboring Coosa County.

State leaders are making a final push to request Alabama residents fill out the census in the last month before it is closed.

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We will find out later this fall if Alabama passes the national average of participation in the census compared to other states to retain both its future representation and share of federal dollars.

In the meantime, Alabamians need to fill out their census forms.

The state is depending on it.

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Opinion | This Labor Day let’s honor Alabama’s workers

Bren Riley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

In July, the Southwest Alabama Labor Council made the tough decision to cancel what was going to be our 75th annual Labor Day Parade in Mobile in order to ensure the safety of our affiliates, members, and the general public.

Needless to say, I’m crushed. Each year, there’s nothing I look forward to more than gathering with union members far and wide to celebrate Alabama’s union members. After all we have been through in 2020, no one deserves a day of love and celebration more than our workers.

For many of us, Labor Day represents a day off to enjoy our last day of summer. But Labor Labor Day is so much more than just picnics and gearing up to go back to school—it is a day to honor America’s working people. In the face of this unprecedented pandemic, it’s important now more than ever to support Alabama’s workers first.

Unfortunately, Alabama was ranked the worst state in the country to work during the COVID-19 pandemic. When I first read this, I was heartbroken. Then I got angry.

The COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted challenges that have always faced Alabama’s working people. Inequality. Poor working conditions. No mandated sick or family leave. For decades, Alabama’s labor movement has fought tooth and nail for these sorts of protections, only to be pushed back by members in Congress who want nothing more than to destroy unions at the expense of our working people.

In Steve Flowers’ Sept. 3 column, Flowers points out how different things were in Alabama not too long ago. From 1946-66, “Alabama was the most unionized state in the South by far. In fact, every major employer in the State of Alabama was a union shop.”

Ordinarily, I’d feel crushed reading such a statement. But like my anger mentioned earlier, this time around, I’m determined.

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This Labor Day, we have a chance to build back the power of the labor movement in our state by gearing up for what could be the most important elections in Alabama’s modern history.

At the forefront, we have the opportunity to elect Joe Biden as the President of the United States, thereby ending the most virulently anti-labor administration we have seen in the last century.

And here in Alabama, we all-in for the fight to re-elect Senator Doug Jones. Sen. Jones has been nothing but an ally to our working people, especially in pushing his Senate colleagues to take up HEROES Act — a comprehensive COVID-19 relief bill currently sitting untouched in Mitch McConnell’s lap.

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In total, the Alabama AFL-CIO has endorsed ten candidates running for office in 2020. By electing politicians who will fight for America’s working class and uplift the labor movement, we can keep making real progress in the fight for a fair economy and a just society.

This Labor Day, whether it’s time to head in after a socially-distanced gathering with loved ones or a Zoom call with friends, take the time to reflect on why we get to celebrate this holiday.  Labor unions bring the freedom to balance life and work — the freedom in knowing that one job is enough, that you can be with a sick child or parent without losing your job, that you can report hazards without being fired. This Labor Day, let’s get fired up for a better Alabama.

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