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Chris England joins the growing opposition to Amendment One

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama Democratic Party Chairman Chris England and the Alabama Republican Party Executive Committee agree on at least one thing and that is that voters should go to the polls on Tuesday and vote no on Amendment One.

The voters go to the polls on Tuesday to vote on whether or not to replace the elected State Board of Education (SBOE) with an appointed board. If passed Amendment One would be constitutional amendment 284 to the Alabama Constitution.

“Amendment One threatens to abolish the state’s elected school board to replace it with a board completely appointed by the Governor,” ADP Chairman England wrote. “Before you sit down to mark your ballot on Tuesday, I hope you will consider a few important facts. A “yes” vote on Tuesday would do away with the current eight-member, state school board which was chosen in elections (held in 2016 and 2018) with 1.6 million voters participating. A “yes” vote would transfer the will and wishes of millions of qualified voters to a single state official, allowing the Governor to personally select and appoint nine people to form a new commission to oversee Alabama’s public schools. A “yes” vote would eliminate the State Superintendent’s role, which would be replaced with a newly created position, the Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education.”

“Let’s be honest here. It’s not a well-kept secret. As a state, Alabama ranks last—or close to last—in just about everything,” England admitted. “Some might try and convince you that this is an effort to move public education forward, but greedy power grabs rarely lead to sustainable progress. Our state’s education system should not be used as a political football.”

“Amendment One is another attempt to dismantle democracy, trading the will of the people for the wishes of one person,” England concluded. “If we truly have hopes for a future that rises from the bottom of the achievement lists to provide a quality education for all of our students, then we must ensure all of our communities are represented and heard. I think the 1,650,113 voters who weighed in on the election of our current state school board might agree. #VotenoonAmendment1.”

In August the Alabama Republican Party Executive Committee met and passed a resolution urging voters to reject Amendment one.

Republican executive committee member and outspoken Common Core opponent Mike Parsons told the committee that putting the requirement of a “national” standard in the state constitution “Will lock Alabama into national” standards like Common Core and any future changes that might occur at the national level the state would be forced to adopt; and there would be nothing that Alabama parents could do about it.

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“If the amendment passes, the new commission will be required to “adopt a course of study standards that ensure nationwide consistency and the seamless transfer of students from within and outside of the state, in lieu of common core,” ADP Chair England said. “This sentence was intentionally tucked away from voters in an effort to circumvent the legislative process and avoid deliberative debate and compromise to examine and evaluate the use of Common Core standards in Alabama.”

The resolution opposing Amendment 284 was passed by the Alabama Republican Executive Committee 65 to 35 percent.

The Alabama Democratic Conference also opposes Amendment One.

Joe Reed is the Chairman of the ADC. Reed said in a statement: “This was the most idiotic proposal that has been placed before the people of Alabama in the history of the state.”

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The bill was sponsored by State Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, and passed both houses of the Legislature with broad bipartisan support.

“We have some people in the Legislature who should not be there!” Reed said.

“It is not in the interests of the people of Alabama,” said State Representative Bob Fincher, R-Woodland. “The people of this state do not need to cede their right to Montgomery to elect a state school board.”

State Representative John Rogers, D-Birmingham, said, “I took a poll and everybody in my district is against this. I have to be opposed to it.”

State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) said, “Amendment One will take your right away to vote on state school board members and let Gov Ivey have the right to appoint all the state school board.”

Jim Zeigler warned. “It puts the requirements of the common core into the state constitution.”

“This is too much concentration of authority in the Executive branch,” Senate candidate State Representative Arnold Mooney, R-Indian Springs, said. “I am not in favor of national standards.”

“In 1970, we had an appointed board,” State Representative Andrew Sorrell, R-Muscle Shoals, said. We switched to an elected board because they at the time thought would work better now they want to switch to an appointed board again. “I have seen the polling on this issue and we can win and we will win.”

The voters of Alabama will get to decide whether they want to keep electing their state school board members or not when they vote on March 3 in the major party presidential primaries.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with over nine years at Alabama Political Reporter. During that time he has written 8,297 articles for APR. 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

Nearly $1 million awarded to Alabama summer learning programs

SAIL facilitates a peer learning and funding network to ensure high-quality summer learning programs thrive.

Staff

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Third graders participate in making a volcano at a STEM program.

Nearly one million dollars in grant funding was announced this week for summer learning programs in Birmingham, Huntsville and the Black Belt.

Formed in 2012 as a project of six Alabama-based philanthropies, Summer Adventures in Learning facilitates a peer learning and funding network to ensure high-quality summer learning programs thrive across the state. Today, SAIL operates in 15 Alabama counties, including the Birmingham, Black Belt, Tuscaloosa and Huntsville/Madison County areas.

SAIL announced that it is awarding 37 independent programs in the Birmingham area and the Black Belt region with $698,500. In the Huntsville/Madison County region, SAIL is providing an additional $200,000 to three partners operating programs at 14 sites throughout the region.

“We have always known the importance of intentionally academic summer programming, but it proved more critical than ever after schools closed in the spring of 2020,” said Elizabeth Dotts Fleming, the executive director of The Schools Foundation, which administers the SAIL network in Huntsville.  “One of the hallmarks of SAIL is its diverse delivery of programming, while following the Quality Assurance Framework.”

SAIL does not require its programs to follow a specific curriculum. This flexibility allows each site to design a summer learning program that meets students where they are academically, that is tailored to the child’s interests and addresses the needs of the whole child.

Two Alabama school systems are collaborating with SAIL to meet the Alabama Literacy Act’s summer reading requirements. One of those systems is Blount County Schools. It is using SAIL funding to offer summer reading camps for K-3 students who are behind in reading.

“State law requires school systems to offer summer reading camps, but leaves the implementation to each district,” said Mitchie Neel, the executive director of the Blount County Education Foundation. “We know from research that how you structure a summer learning program influences how much students will learn. Partnering with SAIL allows us to meet students where they are while nurturing the whole child and bringing them up to grade level.”

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In the summer of 2020, SAIL supported 34 programs. 14 provided in-person programs, 17 virtual and three offered an at-home curriculum. Due to COVID restrictions, enrollment was down from SAIL’s normal 2,500-plus students to 1,250.

In 2020, SAIL students gained an average of 2.3 months in reading and 1.6 months in math. Research shows that students from low-income families typically lose two-to-three months of reading and math skills every summer. SAIL’s gains are especially salient this year because the novel coronavirus is exacerbating academic losses for at-risk students. Eighty-four percent of students enrolled in 2020 qualified for free- and reduced-cost lunches.

In 2021, state education leaders are concerned that academic losses will be at the highest levels in years. SAIL grantees are preparing to increase their enrollment to pre-pandemic levels.

  • Click here for a list of programs receiving SAIL funding in Birmingham.
  • Click here for a list of programs receiving SAIL funding in Black Belt.
  • Click here for a list of programs receiving SAIL funding in Huntsville/Madison County.

“Last summer, our programs met our students where they were and provided them the supports they needed most,” said Fleming. “Today, SAIL sites are diligently planning for this summer with keen attention to serving students who need this fun yet intentionally academic catch up time the most. We are stronger when we work together, collaboratively, for our students, and we see that through SAIL.”

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Auburn faculty vote down no-confidence vote on provost

Seventy-one percent of the 1,200 faculty members present voted against holding a no-confidence vote in Provost Bill Hardgrave.

Josh Moon

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Auburn Provost Bill Hardgrave.

In a wild online meeting Tuesday with more than 1,200 Auburn University faculty members, a no-confidence vote against Provost Bill Hardgrave was scrapped after 71 percent of the faculty members voted not to hold the vote. 

That vote followed a number of confusing procedural motions and heated arguments among some faculty members and administrators. Ultimately, however, a clear majority of the faculty saw no value in moving forward with the vote. 

“I am heartened by the support that so many of our faculty expressed at today’s University Senate meeting, reinforcing the great work they have helped Auburn accomplish to date during the pandemic,” Hardgrave said in a statement released by the university. “Amid such support, we remain committed to providing a safe and rewarding academic experience at Auburn. As we go forward, I will continue to listen to each of our shared governance groups while heeding the input of faculty, students and staff and the advice of medical experts, building on the successes of our fall semester.”

Hardgrave had come under fire over the university’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with most of the anger surrounding the announcement that Auburn would push to increase in-person instruction to 70 percent in the spring semester. Faculty members instead wanted more flexibility in order to determine when remote instruction was necessary. 

Hardgrave and university officials maintained that the 70 percent figure wasn’t conjured out of thin air or based on revenue projections, but was instead a product of numerous conversations with faculty, staff, students, medical professionals and other stakeholders. 

Defending himself in previous meetings, Hardgrave noted that he held multiple town hall meetings with faculty, and the COVID protocols developed and implemented were the product of those meetings. 

During Tuesday’s meeting, which was filled with angry outbursts, outright confusion and a number of comical exchanges, Hardgrave called the no-confidence vote “an attack” against him, both personally and professionally. 

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Ultimately, however, the majority of the faculty sided with Hardgrave, possibly because the university’s response to COVID has been rather successful. Auburn has experienced no layoffs or furloughs on campus, nor has it been forced to close campus or shut down classes.

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Opinion | This leader inspires confidence

“It takes a proven leader to make thoughtful, vigilant decisions in times of chaos.”

Jane DiFolco Parker

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(STOCK PHOTO)

There is no playbook in a pandemic. There are no hard and fast rules in a fast-moving crisis. Second-guessing in a crisis, especially from those who have never had to deal with such pressures, is counterproductive.

It takes a proven leader to make thoughtful, vigilant decisions in times of chaos.

Following the uncertainty that defined last spring and summer, Auburn University forged into an unpredictable fall, making necessary tough decisions in the midst of an unprecedented crisis as it transitioned back to campus. Although many institutions opted for fully remote instruction, suspending classes, or even canceling semesters entirely, Auburn committed to creating a safe campus environment while preserving many of the benefits of a residential academic community. 

Despite the pandemic’s myriad challenges, Auburn remained open throughout the fall and had a successful semester, thanks to countless students, faculty, and staff who understood the importance of safety protocols and upheld shared institutional values. Not surprisingly, there was an increase in COVID-19 cases in the first few weeks of the fall semester, but the number of cases declined and remained at negligible levels for the remainder of the term. 

Amazingly, Auburn was able to avoid the employee furloughs, layoffs, salary cuts, and hiring freezes which have befallen other colleges and universities throughout the country. In addition to holding town halls with faculty and staff, I know the university worked diligently to respond to concerns, adjust policies and procedures, and implement safety measures that enabled the institution to continue delivering on its mission of teaching, research, and outreach. The versatility and nimbleness exhibited by Auburn’s leadership, faculty, staff, and students in navigating the extraordinary circumstances resulting from the pandemic are impressive.

As our country grapples with an unprecedented public health crisis and a highly volatile political climate, we know that one of the best ways to support students is to foster a structured learning environment that supports critical thinking, advances problem solving, encourages empathy, and promotes diversity of thought. 

With this in mind, and using the past semester as a guide, the university is preparing to start the spring semester next week with more than 70 percent of classes face-to-face. Although some may disagree with a return to on-campus learning, the decision to do so was made based on careful consideration by the university’s senior leadership. These leaders sought feedback from local, state, and federal medical professionals, shared governance groups, campus representatives at various levels, and other sources, including state government and peer institutions. 

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Last month, Governor Ivey encouraged educational institutions to return to the classroom for the spring. A majority of students and faculty who have communicated their preferences favor returning to the classroom while still providing flexibility to faculty and students who request it. Indeed, there is an unavoidable cost to remote learning — we have seen its negative effect on the mental health of both students and faculty members. 

Although the decision to return to on-campus instruction is supported by many, some have voiced opposition. The changing and uncertain nature of the pandemic often leads to fear and, in some cases, anger. Unfortunately, much of this anger has been directed at Bill Hardgrave, Auburn’s provost and chief academic officer. Recently, this frustration has manifested in a specially-called — and horribly misguided — meeting to take a vote of no confidence. At Auburn, it takes only 50 faculty members of the more than 1,700 faculty to sign a petition calling for such a vote. That is fewer than 3 percent of the entire faculty!

This action is regrettable. It sends a false message about a leader who has stepped up to forge an uncharted path during extraordinary times. Throughout this unprecedented year, Dr. Hardgrave has taken deliberate measures to consult with and to incorporate faculty opinion, and to allow exceptions to in-person teaching when it presented a hardship for a faculty member. He has encouraged innovative approaches to pedagogy and helped deliver excellence, which is the hallmark of an Auburn education and a renowned faculty. 

Auburn President Jay Gogue said recently, “A no-confidence vote in the midst of a global pandemic and social unrest when student, faculty, staff and administration leaders have worked diligently together for the best interests of our campus is unprecedented and destructive.”

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At a time when our nation is experiencing profound divisiveness at all levels, Auburn has a unique opportunity to demonstrate its role as a leader in higher education. Dr. Hardgrave’s proven ability to guide Auburn’s academic enterprise during these unprecedented times is indisputable. His efforts have exemplified The Auburn Creed, demonstrating a belief in education, hard work, honesty, and sympathy for the interests of the university’s students, faculty, and staff.

Not only does a vote of no confidence damage the reputation of an academic leader who has served Auburn admirably for the past ten years, but it damages the reputation of our university among the higher education community, and it undermines its credibility with our students, parents, alumni, community, and accrediting agencies. It does not benefit the university, but rather undercuts the hard work of so many members of the Auburn Family in advancing our mission during the pandemic. I strongly encourage those who wish to express a rational, constructive voice in furthering Auburn’s mission to continue to speak up in support of Dr. Hardgrave and, thus, in support of our university. You are being heard.

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Alabama school internet vouchers extended into 2021

The Alabama Broadband Connectivity for Students program will continue into 2021, made possible by a provision in the latest COVID-19 relief package.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday announced the extension of a statewide program that uses CARES Act funds to provide vouchers for internet service for low-income families with school-aged children.

Ivey’s office in a Monday press release said the Alabama Broadband Connectivity for Students program will continue into 2021, made possible by a provision in the latest COVID-19 relief package, passed by Congress on Friday and signed into law by President Donald Trump late Sunday.

The ABC program which has provided high-speed internet for about 200,000 Alabama students and was set to end on the original CARES Act spending deadline of Dec. 30, according to the release. The latest round of COVID-19 aid extended that deadline for another year.

“Alabama has led nationally with this innovative program via CARES Act funding to ensure that students can participate in distance-learning during the pandemic,” Ivey said in a statement. “I am extremely grateful to President Trump and Congress for including the funding extension, and most of all, I am pleased that we will continue to offer this assistance to the families who are signed up for the program. My hope is that this extension is welcome news for both parents and students during an unusual and difficult school year.”

Trump last week threatened to not sign the COVID-19 aid package or the omnibus spending bill, saying he wanted the $600 in direct payments to individuals bumped up to $2,000. That could have resulted in a government shutdown, which would have likely resulted in an estimated 14 million unemployed Americans losing their benefits and would have let a moratorium on evictions expire.

Updated information for current participants in the ABC program is to be posted soon to the program’s website.

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