Political action committees have been a standard part of the legislative process for more than a century.
While it is standard for PACs to lobby politicians, these groups sometimes wield enough power to convince legislators to vote a way that is in line with the organization’s goals or beliefs. Most of the time this power comes from monetary donations to the legislators’ campaigns.
The Yellowhammer State is no different, especially when it comes to the Alabama Education Association (AEA). The group has contributed massive amounts of money to Republicans and Democrats throughout the state for years.
And, it’s not unusual for one party to receive more money than the other from the AEA, but a recent hot-button issue – school choice – has found more money going to Republican legislators over Democrats by a 2-to-1 margin.
In a recent election cycle, Republicans received $1,066,475.69, while Democrats collected $519,147.22.
Now, many conservatives are concerned the AEA is exercising its power over Republican legislators and would lead them to vote against school choice legislation.
State Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur), who has introduced school choice legislation, wants to address “funding issues.”
“I would like to see us maybe continue to push ahead with funding issues that have been needed for charters or for the scholarships and grow the choices that we have there,” said Collins, a member of the House Education Policy Committee. “But also really fund and be smart with our funding to make sure that we are implementing the Literacy and the Numeracy acts all over to make sure that we’re growing that, that we continue to fund our First Class Pre-K because we know it makes a difference, we saw great gains in our literacy with our students, and that needs to continue.
“It’s just a continuous push forward.”
Emily Schultz, executive director of the pro-charter school Alabama Families for Great Schools, said while the money flowing from the AEA to Republicans can’t be regulated, it is clear that the vast majority of Republican voters within the state favor school choice.
“We can’t control how much AEA gives to Republican candidates or whether or not Republican lawmakers accept contributions from AEA,” said Schultz. “What we do know is that 65% of Republican voters are supportive of school choice and we trust lawmakers to be responsive to their constituents.
“The public charter school sector is focused on creating more high quality options for Alabama families and empowering parents to make choices that are right for their kids.”
Others are not so convinced about school choice legislation, citing the monetary cost of the legislation, the possibility of massive amounts of funding being pulled from the states education trust fund, and also the new problems it could create for educators in the state.
The AEA’s Allison King said the proposed school choice legislation creates a “lack of accountability and oversight” and also allows for the possibility of fraud by parents and the “educational venders” they choose.
Dr. Arthur Watts, finance director of the Montgomery City School System, is also among those concerned.
“This bill could cost $600 million,” Watts said. “The typical teacher costs about $70,000 -t hat includes $10,000 in benefits. Just one-fourth of that, $150 million, divided by $70,000 would be a loss of over 2,080 teachers. Half that would be $300 million – that would be a loss of 4,160 teachers.
“If it cost all of that $600 million, that would be a loss of 8,320 teachers.”
Perhaps most succinctly, Eagle Forum Director Becky Gerritson said, “Education dollars should go to educate the children.”
Republicans who received the most money from the AEA in 2022
1. State Sen. Tom Whatley (R-Auburn) – $50,000*-Defeated, however, still received the most money from the AEA out of both parties in 2022.
2. State Senate District 12 candidate Keith Kelley (R-Anniston) – $45,000
3. State Sen. Donnie Chesteen (R-Geneva) – $35,000
4. State Rep. Mike Jones (R-Andalusia) – $35,000
5. State Rep. Gil Isbell (R-Gadsden) – $34,228.42
6. State Sen. Randy Price (R-Opelika) – $32,604.66
7. State House District 40 candidate Julie Michelle Borelli (R-Anniston) – $30,000
8. State House District 15 candidate Leigh Hulsey (R-Helena) – $30,000
9. State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Josephine) – $30,000
10. State Rep. Phillip Pettus (R-Killen) – $30,000
11. State Rep. Tommy Hanes Jr. (R-Bryant) – $25,000
12. State House District 20 candidate James Lomax (R-Huntsville) – $25,000
13. State Sen. Tim Melson (R-Florence) – $25,000
14. State Rep. Debbie Wood (R-Valley) – $25,000
15. Former State Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) – $25,000
16. State Rep. Proncey Robertson (R-Mount Hope) – $20,000
17. State Rep. Cynthia Lee Almond (R-Tuscaloosa) – $20,000
18. State Rep. Corey Harbison (R-Cullman) – $20,000
19. State Sen. Andrew Jones (R-Centre) – $20,000
20. State Rep. Jamie Kiel (R-Russellville) – $20,000
21. State Rep. Ritchie Whorton (R-Owens Cross Roads) – $20,000
* – lost his race
Democrats who received most money from AEA in 2022
1. State Sen. Vivian Davis Figures (D-Mobile) – $45,000
2. State Rep. Dexter Grimsley (D-Newville) – $30,000
3. Former State Sen. Hank Sanders (D-Selma) – $30,000
4. State Senate District 56 candidate Ontario Tillman (D-Bessemer) – $30,000
5. State Sen. Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) – $25,000
6. State Sen. Linda Coleman-Madison (D-Birmingham) – $25,000
7. State Sen. Merika Coleman (D-Pleasant Grove) – $25,000
8. State House District 57 candidate Patrick Sellers (D-Birmingham) – $20,000
Austen Shipley is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News.
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