Opinion: RAISE not good for teachers

Published 12:18 pm Saturday, January 9, 2016


Public education in Alabama does not have a unified voice. This vacuum allows efforts that defy common sense to gather momentum.

We have come to a point where we either commit ourselves to standing up for public schools–or resigning ourselves to the fact that those with little understanding of what goes on in today’s classroom, those who run Washington think tanks funded by giant foundations and millionaires from outside Alabama will increasingly call the shots.

Let’s look at how this perfect storm came about.

If we are honest, we begin with the election of Barack Obama as President in 2008. The dislike of the president in Alabama was immediate, intense and visceral. Recognizing this, Republican leadership begin developing a game plan to take control of the Statehouse in 2010.

When the dust settled on the November 2010 election, the GOP claimed 17 new House seats and nine Senate seats. For the first time in 136 years, Republicans controlled both the Senate and the House.

They immediately took dead aim at the Alabama Education Association (AEA). Lame duck Gov. Bob Riley called a special session shortly after the election (legislators take office immediately upon election while constitutional officers do not take office until mid-January following their election).

One of the bills stopped payroll deductions to pay dues to AEA and the Alabama State Employees Association.

For decades AEA was the 800-pound gorilla in state politics. Paul Hubbert, AEA executive secretary, was definitely someone to be reckoned with by lawmakers. He was not loved by everyone in education. But even his detractors knew he had their back and that he had a voice regarding legislation dealing with education.

Hubbert announced his retirement in 2011 and was replaced by Henry Mabry. To say that went badly is a huge understatement.

How has public education fared since 2010? Not very well.

The Alabama Accountability Act in 2013 was the first indication that educators were on the outside looking in. The fact that it was a radical piece of education policy that was kept a secret from the education community until the 11th hour left no doubt that legislative leadership has little regard for public education.

What was education’s response? Not much. Yes, there was a law suit to stop the accountability act and more than 30 school systems filed a “friend of the court” brief in support, but education failed to draw a line in the sand and make a determined effort to defeat those who voted for this bill.

This emboldened those in charge at the Statehouse.

So in 2015 we get a charter school bill. We amend the Accountability Act so that it diverts more money from the Education Trust Fund. (We have now diverted $66.8 million). We take $80 million from ETF to prop up the General Fund. We create a new bureaucracy at the state department of education to work with charter schools and we put a politically-appointed board in charge who can overrule local school boards.

The next legislative session begins in February. A bill titled RAISE Act of 2016 has now surfaced. It is even more drastic than the accountability act. For one, it says that teachers will be evaluated in large part by the scores of their students on standardized tests. Such efforts have been studied by countless researchers and come up short in most cases.

It also creates the Alabama Longitudinal Data System that will gather info from 12 sources and operate under the direction of another politically-appointed board. One can only guess at the millions of dollars it will require and how much work it will create for local school systems.

I have yet to talk to an educator who thinks this legislation has merit. (And from all indications, whoever wrote the bill, like with the Accountability Act, did not seek input from Alabama educators.)

This bill is not good for our public schools. It should be killed. As much as for what it signifies as for what it does.

We did not draw the line in the sand in 2014. We should in 2016.

This is why Alabama education needs a voice. One that is driven by passionate educators and concerned citizens who get informed and contact their legislators, their newspaper editors and their fellow educators and neighbors.

We don’t need this RAISE, but we do need to raise our VOICES.


Larry Lee a longtime advocate for public education. He can be reached at larrylee133@gmail.com.