By Dr. Henry C. Mabry, Executive Secretary
By now every educator in Alabama should understand that elections really do have consequences.
Alabama’s 2014 general election is a month away, and the November 4 Election Day for state offices matters more for public education than any election over the past decade.
Four years ago, Alabamians elected an anti-public education led Republican supermajority in the Legislature that set a course to destroy public education in our state. It began in a special session even before newly-elected Governor Robert Bentley took office.
With Bob Riley still occupying the Governor’s Mansion in December 2010, the Republican dominated Legislature took dues payroll deduction away from educators in a special session that was supposed to be about “ethics.”
This was only the beginning of the four-year reign of terror against teachers and education support professionals.
Despite how he talks about fondness for educators, Governor Bentley systematically went along with this GOP supermajority in signing every anti-education bill that was passed. He looked the other way as Republican legislative leaders pummeled public education even though AEA’s members put Governor Bentley over the hump in 2010. Public education has only suffered under his tenure as the state’s chief executive and not one single positive occurrence can be pointed to resulting in helping our public schools as a whole.
Between now and election day, educators will be inundated by television commercials, radio spots, and mail that will attempt to persuade voters that the opponent of Republican incumbents in legislative districts across the state is President Barack Obama.
The Obama race card is what anti-education Republicans will be playing every day between now and the general election to help re-elect lawmakers to Montgomery even though said lawmakers have absolutely nothing to do with President Obama. Facts being facts, President Obama is NOT running for any elective office in Alabama. Not one Alabama state legislator has any impact upon the President. Only our U.S. Senators and Representatives can have an impact on what goes on in Washington, D.C.
How can educators protect themselves against another four years of pain from anti-education state lawmakers? First and foremost, voting is the key. Voter apathy is something we simply cannot afford in such a critical election and complacency, even among educators, meant many pro-education lawmakers being defeated in 2010.
So why bother to vote? It’s easy to dismiss the process as unfair and irrelevant in the face of the anti-education GOP super majority, but this is not true. The fact is that even imperfect elections do matter to all of us and we can each make a difference in returning sanity to the public education debate in Montgomery.
The November 4 election ought to be about real alternatives to solving serious problems in Alabama. On one hand, we need to keep pressing for reforms that would help the state live up to its ideals and working to overturn some bad laws that have adversely affected public education. Our children need computers, textbooks, and classroom supplies. Our students and educators need to feel safe against assailants going berserk. Our educators need tools and less red tape so teachers and support professionals can do their jobs. We need to elect candidates who are dedicated to helping address the tremendous needs of public education in Alabama.
Is there enough enthusiasm among educators for the upcoming election? We hope there is because much is at stake for the futures of every educator serving our public schools.
Educators must ask yourselves, “Can we afford to work under the conditions and set-backs imposed on us by this Legislature for another four years?” No can be the only answer to this question.
Closely examine each House and Senate candidate. Candidates like Terri Collins of Decatur who professed support of public schools four years ago but who have acted in a polar opposite fashion cannot be trusted and need to be defeated.
Here are the basic questions: Did the incumbent vote in your best interest over the past four years? Did they vote in the best interest of education? Or, like Terri Collins, did they simply march in lock step to the orders of House Speaker Mike Hubbard of Auburn and/or Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh of Anniston?
When deciding whether to vote and for whom to vote, consider some of the successful attacks carried out by the anti-education Republican leadership and their lemmings after initially ending payroll deductions in December 2010.
Tenure rights were weakened in 2011. The new crowd killed the DROP program in 2011, and the new supermajority cut educators’ pay in 2011. These politicians have still not made up for every teacher losing thousands of dollars of pay thanks to the hostility of the new legislative leadership placed in power four years ago.
In 2012, Republicans came with a sweeping bill that would have brought charter schools to every corner of the state and a bill that would have allowed companies to keep state income taxes withheld from the pay of new employees instead of going to our schools.
Fortunately, AEA beat back both of those measures, but we expect a charter school bill to resurface in 2015, because the charter schools are too profitable for the education privateers to let go and more raids against the Education Trust Fund are expected.
Educators were still hit in the pocketbook in 2012 when out-of-pocket PEEHIP costs were increased. Our retirees have not had a raise since 2007 and working educators still remain under a pay cut.
Further, in 2013, tax dollars meant for public schools were diverted to private schools in the form of vouchers and tax credits. Every classroom is losing $1,000 a year thanks to the private school raid and the bulk of this money went to Bob Riley’s scholarship organization.
Even this year, an election year, we had to defeat another up-to $850 pay cut. The anti-education crowd did not want to pay for increased PEEHIP costs, but luckily we won this fight.
It may seem like an eternity ago, but the 2010 elections should still cause consternation for every educator and retired educator and it should be a call to action as the general election approaches.
For those who care about well-funded public schools, and for those who care about educators’ rights, this election truly matters.
We cannot leave the Legislature in the hands of those who want to corporatize, de-fund, or otherwise weaken our public schools.
Our future and our schools are on the line once again. Now is not the time to stay home and sit on our hands. If every educator and retired educator gets five voters to the polls to vote for pro-education candidates then 2014 will be much different than 2010. We can not only hope, but we must act on Tuesday, November 4 to change the toxic landscape in Montgomery.