The year Alabama Legislators took over the schools

My father grew up poor and never finished high school but was incredibly resourceful. He did his own plumbing, wiring, and construction. But on occasion, Dad’s chief asset became a liability. So confident was he in his ability to fix things that he refused to admit he didn’t know everything.

That is a good description of the new Republican Legislature. They were elected for good reasons: the hubris, arrogance, excesses, corruption, and demagoguery of the Democrats.

But the 2013 Legislature reminds me of the Democrats they replaced. Republicans, who hold all state offices and a veto-proof majority in the Legislature, have decided that they know better than anyone how to do everything. Take education, for instance

Three successive reform State School Superintendents – suported by a business community concerned about loss of one-third of Alabama manufacturing jobs since 2000 and fearful that schools were not producing a labor force skilled enough to compete in a global economy – began reforming education.

They introduced model early childhood programs, world-class math and science curricula, a reading initiative widely copied nationwide, tougher graduation standards – and they took over failing schools and malfunctioning systems characterized by patronage politics and financial profligacy (think Birmingham).

So what does the new Legislature do? Demand all this be turned over to them.

As a convert both to charter schools and fully funded vouchers for students in failing schools, I sympathize with the goals, but I have no confidence whatever in the Legislators.

For one thing, they don’t know what they’re doing. Their secretly orchestrated school flexibility plan required failing schools to provide transportation when a child leaves. But some systems have no public transportation. The new law required that failing public schools continue to provide costly special education services to students who withdraw and take their funds with them to private schools. But how will the failing school, already horribly underfunded by national standards because of Alabama’s low property taxes, fund this? Trust them? Why?

Gov. Bentley dismisses such concerns, telling us to trust Republicans to work out such troubling details later. But in light of the Legislature’s total lack of transparency, public input, consultation with local school superintendents, the state School Superintendent or Board, the State Association of School Boards, the state PTA, A+ or business leaders who employ the products of their new system – why should anyone trust them?

In rational American legislatures, lawmakers do their research and hold hearings first, then craft laws, not the other way around.

As for the Legislature’s effort to transfer school curriculum decisions from the State Board of Education to them, even the dumbest, blindest dog in Alabama can sniff out that scam. Joe Legislator, eager to please constituents and insulate state pride from graduation failure rates typical of poor states, will be beseiged by parents who will argue: “Just because Junior doesn’t study is no reason why my boy shouldn’t graduate. You need to ease up on the kid.”

Trust me. I know. It happened at Auburn University when I taught there. It happened when I was facilitating the Equity Fund Lawsuit. I didn’t capitulate. But then, I wasn’t elected.

And when Billy Joe Senator tells us he needs this power because we don’t want Obama dictating school standards, Republicans will have travelled full circle back to the demagoguery of Democrat George Wallace, who always assumed we were dumber than we are. Do your own homework on this

Why should you trust politicians to think for you? Obama did not develop national core curricula. It came from state and local school leaders and business people determined that what happened to me will not happen to my grandchildren: I attended 12 schools between ages 6 and 14 in two different states and was usually completely lost because each school curriculum taught different subjects at different times in different ways.

If you think Legislators of either party understand this or will maintain tough, world-class curricula, I own some mountain view land in the Mobile Delta I will sell you.

If Alabama business leaders favor transferring core curricula power to state Legislators, why don’t they say so?

Why didn’t Legislators ask them?

Because GOP Legislators don’t need to consult anyone.

They already know everything.