We can end assault on our schools

May 16, 2014 04:24 PM


By Dr. Henry C. Mabry, AEA Executive Secretary The damage done to our state’s educators over the past four years by the Alabama Legislature’s Republican anti-education Supermajority is difficult to understand and stomach. It is also disturbing that House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, the leader of the pack of anti-education hyenas, is prideful that he has done everything possible to gut public education and hurt those serving our school children. It is no surprise that with all the Speaker’s zeal to give hundreds of millions of education dollars to private concerns that Hubbard is linked to two indictments issued by a Lee County Grand Jury that is about to resume its work. Hubbard and his twin in the state senate, Del Marsh, masterminded the election wave in 2010 that gave Republicans the anti-education supermajority in the Legislature. Most Republican legislators voted in lock step as part of four years of unrelenting retribution against those in public education. Before newly elected Gov. Robert Bentley even got sworn into office in 2011, outgoing Gov. Bob Riley upstaged his successor by summoning a so-called special session on “ethics reform” in December 2010. In reality, it was an opportunity for Riley – with the help of the newly elected Republican Supermajority -- to get his shot at teachers and AEA. They tinkered with the ethics law and made some changes like limiting gifts that students could give their teachers. The number one goal of that special session was a bill to stop educators from paying dues to AEA by payroll deduction. It had nothing to do with ethics, but everything to do with weakening educators’ voices at the Statehouse. The GOP Supermajority was just getting started with the assault on payroll deduction. There is a lengthy laundry list of bills, starting with the Supermajority’s first year in control during 2011 that was aimed squarely at public education. The first bill signed into law by Gov. Robert Bentley – the so-called “Rolling Reserve,” was ill-conceived and harmful to school funding.  The goal of this bill was to siphon billions of dollars from the Education Trust Fund for a “savings account.”  The Act starves public education and puts education funding in jeopardy of being raided to prop up the General Fund (like Gov. Bentley attempted to do in 2012). Touted as a way to protect schools from funding dilemmas, the “Rolling Reserve Act” has actually had the opposite effect by withholding desperately needed funds from public education. Now, a recent study has shown Alabama leading the nation -- by far -- in the decline in spending per student in its elementary and secondary schools.  The Pew Center on the States’ survey shows inflation-adjusted spending by the state of Alabama fell by $1,318 per student. Even Gov. Bentley now sees the folly of this law and has tried to circumvent it. In 2011, the Republicans really socked it to educators with one punitive measure after another. Educators’ contribution to their state retirement plan was increased from 5 percent to 7.5 percent. According to AEA calculations, teachers took a cumulative pay cut of $2,618 while support staff took a cut of $1,100 each, thanks to this hit to teachers and support professionals. Thanks to what has taken place over the past four years by the actions of anti-education Republicans, the average teacher’s pocketbook has been bilked $6,000. It wasn’t until the 2013 session that educators got any more money to help backfill the 2.5 percent pay cut, and that was a miserly 2 percent that didn’t begin to cover the damage inflicted since 2010 under the anti-education Republican Supermajority. AEA pushed for a 6 percent raise in 2014; Bentley countered with another 2 percent, but his party – even in an election year – refused educators one red cent. A raise was refused even though Bentley’s finance director said it was possible to provide the raise and fully fund PEEHIP. Again, this was simply more punishment from the anti-education Republican Supermajority led by Mike Hubbard and Del Marsh. It became apparent when these folks took over that Hubbard and Senate Pro-Tem Del Marsh would place opening the pocketbooks of public schools to line the pockets of their buddies in Alabama at the top of their agenda. Gov. Bentley even joined in following the lead of Mike Hubbard. They brought in the discredited charter school advocate Michelle Rhee to spearhead the attack. Rhee and her group, StudentsFirst, lobbied lawmakers in 2012, but ultimately the sweeping charter school bill failed. It would have been another vehicle for former Gov. Bob Riley and his cronies to make millions of dollars off of the state. The Republicans weren’t done with the charter school bill.  In the most shameful of acts, Hubbard and Marsh took an eight-page bill on “school flexibility” and rammed through both chambers a lengthy voucher bill that had never even received a committee hearing, and that a majority of legislators had never seen.  What was the purpose? The purpose was simply diverting money from public schools to private schools, and, ultimately, it meant Bob Riley getting a $1 million “management fee” from his so-called “scholarship fund.” At last count, Riley’s Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund had amassed $20 million and this amount is expected to grow every year, and we expect the former governor to reap millions more from this boondoggle in the form of “processing fees.” Educators lost a significant portion of their job protection when the Legislature rewrote the tenure law in 2011, making it easier for superintendents and school boards to fire teachers and support staff for personal or political reasons. The Supermajority, in another effort to weaken the AEA, set up a parallel liability insurance program for teachers that took $5 million from the Education Trust Fund. AEA already provides a superior insurance program, with legal representation, as part of its membership dues. Even state officials and some school board members around the state called it a clear waste of money that could have gone to textbooks or to classroom materials. Even in an election year, the anti-education Supermajority did not stop its attacks. Hubbard and Marsh wanted to give educators a $500 pay cut but AEA and certain senators blocked this attempt by the end of the session. If this Republican Supermajority is returned to Montgomery to start the 2015 legislative session, educators should expect anti-education Republicans to pick up where they left off in dealing misery to Alabama’s teachers and professional support staff. More pay cuts will come and health insurance and retirement benefits will be reduced by these people in an attempt to kill us off.  If this anti-education Supermajority wins, then we will see charter schools and the proliferation of Bob Riley vouchers. On June 3, go to the polls. Examine the candidates, no matter their party, and VOTE AGAINST anti-education incumbents.  We will identify these politicians for you between now and the election. Your vote is your only way to protect yourself against lawmakers who have attacked public education over the past four long years. June 3 is the first opportunity to right the wrongs. Educators owe it to themselves and their families to exercise this right.

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Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.
- Nelson Mandela