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Invest in public education

Next week, state legislators will return to Montgomery to open the 2013 Legislative Session.

There are several issues the legislature will address this year, and one of the most important will be public education.

When the House Republicans in Montgomery announced their legislative agenda for this year, their signature proposal was a school flexibility bill. What this bill would do is allow local school boards to apply to become “innovative schools,” which would allow them to seek a waiver on state statues, policies, and regulations governing our schools.

On the surface, this does not seem like a bad idea. After all, different school systems have different needs and a statewide statue that helps one school system might hurt another. And who knows better how to run a classroom than the teachers in charge of those classrooms.

But the problem with this bill is that there is potential for abuse and corruption. For example, a local school board could apply to remove a policy that requires local teachers to be licensed. Not only could this lead to people who are not trained educators getting teaching jobs, it could also lead to a scenario where a local school board member uses the situation to get a job for an unqualified friend or family member.

There are also concerns about the oversight of this flexibility program. Under this proposed law, any school seeking to get a waiver for a state policy or regulation would apply to the state school board for that waiver. But there is no oversight of the state school board in making these decisions, nor is there a system in place to challenge the state school board’s decision if parents or school administrators want to challenge the board’s decision.

We should be mindful of the different needs the varying school systems have and give our educators the freedom they need to manage their classrooms. And there has to be some limitations on which policies and regulations can be waived so that we don’t end up with a backdoor charter school system that outsources education jobs to unqualified individuals or turns over school administration to more expensive private companies.

We also need to look at more options than just school flexibility if we are truly going to improve our children’s education.

For one thing, Alabama currently does not have any program in place to recruit young people to the education field or to keep the best educators in our schools.

It is time for a much deserved cost-of-living pay increase for our teachers and support personnel. We also need to look at establishing a recruitment and retention program so that we do not lose our best educators to schools in neighboring states that offer better pay and benefits.

Furthermore, we need to find a way to fully fund the Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative program (AMSTI). The AMSTI program has been proven to improve students’ scores in math and science.

There are many tools we need to be looking at to help our schools improve. We need to increase teachers’ per diem so that they can buy the classroom supplies they need.

Public education is far too important for us to pin all of our hopes on deregulation; especially when that deregulation lacks oversight and an appeals process. We have to invest in our children’s education. We have to support programs like the AMSTI program that are proven to work. We have to invest in classroom resources and teacher recruitment and retention. Investing in education is an investment in our future – not just for our children, but also for the entire state. Today’s children are tomorrow’s leaders, business owners, and employees. The decisions we make this year will affect an entire generation of Alabamians.

We must not let them down!


Johnny Mack Morrow is a state representative for Franklin County. His column appears each week.