1 year ago

Alabama’s public education system ranked nation’s worst as ‘bold change’ set for legislative committee hearing

MONTGOMERY — Alabama’s public education system was ranked number 50 in the United States in a new report published Tuesday, the same day the State Senate’s Committee on Education Policy is set to hear SB 397, a constitutional amendment proposed by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) that would overhaul Alabama’s public K-12 governance.

The annual U.S. News and World Report‘s ranking of the best and worst states to live placed Alabama at number 49 for 2019, representing a three-spot slide from the previous year. The main reason for the decline was Alabama’s education system, which dropped from number 47 to dead last over that time span.

The dire state of Alabama’s public K-12 system is why Marsh has put such an emphasis on his legislation.

“We need systemic changes to our education system and it starts at the top,” he has said.

Marsh’s legislation would replace the current elected State Board of Education with the Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education, members of which will be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the State Senate.

SB 397 would also abolish the State Superintendent position and replace it with a Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education, appointed by the commission and subject to confirmation by the Senate.

Marsh advised, “Currently, one of the reasons that education is consistently the most pressing issue for most Alabamians is because our state school board is completely dysfunctional. We have had five State Superintendents in three years. Our teachers and students are the ones who suffer from this the most.”

The legislation has 20 Senate cosponsors — all Republicans.

Additionally, Governor Kay Ivey has come out in adamant support of the proposal. Marsh told reporters at the State House that State Rep. Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa), the powerful chair of the House Ways and Means Education Committee, will carry the legislation in that chamber.

However, the proposal’s first real legislative test comes Tuesday at 2:45 p.m., when the Senate committee has the legislation on its agenda at the State House.

As a constitutional amendment, SB 397 (if passed by the Alabama legislature) would need to be approved by the people of the state in a referendum. This would occur on the March 2020 primary election date.

“Our students and teachers deserve much more from our educational system, and this constitutional amendment is a way forward for Alabama’s future,” Ivey said. “We must refuse to be complacent with our poor educational rankings. I strongly urge members of the Alabama Legislature and people across the state to join me in supporting this bill.”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

8 hours ago

VIDEO: 100,000 COVID-19 deaths, voting by mail debate spins out of control, Sessions/Tuberville sparring and more on Alabama Politics This Week …

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and Alabama Democratic Executive Committee member Lisa Handback take you through this week’s biggest political stories, including:

— Have we reached the worst part of the coronavirus pandenic?

— What does the debate over absentee balloting really mean?

— Will former Attorney General Jeff Sessions be able to eat into former Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville’s apparent lead?

Jackson and Handback are joined by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to discuss his campaign, the lack of debates, Tommy Tuberville’s comments about the Chinese military and the coronavirus pandemic.


Jackson closes the show with a “parting shot” at all of the protesters and rioters who are running around without masks on after we have heard that not wearing a mask at a Wal-Mart was a statement of disregard for our fellow Americans.


Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN.

9 hours ago

Market at Pepper Place bake sale to support Birmingham’s Jones Valley Teaching Farm

Bake sales for financial fixes have been a Southern go-to for decades, so Alabama’s culinary community is using it as a way of helping a favorite institution.

The Birmingham Bake Sale at the Market at Pepper Place on Saturday is raising money for Jones Valley Teaching Farm.

It’s the brainchild of this week’s featured chef at the market, Kristen Hall, co-owner and executive pastry chef of The Essential and Bandit Patisserie. With that pedigree, you might guess this isn’t going to be your typical bake sale.


“I love the idea of taking something that is such an old-school sort of fundraiser and moving that into our industry,” Hall told Alabama NewsCenter. “We have such an amazing food and beverage industry here in Birmingham.”

That food and beverage industry includes a thriving food media business, which is also lending participants to the bake sale.

For instance, Hunter Lewis, editor-in-chief at Food & Wine magazine, is making salted caramel brownies. Then you have those who are familiar to the Birmingham restaurant scene, like Adeeba Khan of the Shu Shop. But instead of making her well-known ramen, she is making biscuits.

Other participating bakers and chefs include Sayward Estis, Eva Faison, Janét Lee Norman, Victor King, Diego Carvallo, Sarah Ward, Ferrell Carter, Emily Nabors Hall, Cari Gantt, Telia Johnson, Brian Hart Hoffman, Brooke Bell, Neville Baay, James Lewis, Ruth Blackburn, Katie Barreira, Tricia Manzanero. Participating restaurants, bakeries and businesses represented include Automatic Seafood and OystersBottega RestaurantChez FonFonBettolaContinental BakeryBirmingham BreadworksEl Barrio, The Essential, Bandit Pâtisserie, Shu ShopTelia Johnson CakesDreamers Supply CompanyMeredith Food Studios, and Hoffman Media.

“I wondered if I could take this very nostalgic, sort of mom-and-pop, homegrown fundraiser and sort of turn it on its side a little bit and utilize professional pastry chefs, chefs and restaurant owners to raise money for Jones Valley,” Hall said.

Leigh Sloss-Corra, executive director of the Market at Pepper Place, said items for the bake sale began selling out immediately on the market’s website. It’s the kind of response they’ve seen since they launched the featured chef at the new drive-thru market due to COVID-19.

The featured chef initiative takes the place of the chef demos at the traditional market with the goal to “remind the public of what amazing options they have beyond the market.”

Chef of the week newest feature of The Market at Pepper Place from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The first featured chef a few weeks ago was Chris Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club, who sold 1,400 tomato salads. Last weekend, Rodney Scott of Rodney Scott’s BBQ was helping customers get their Memorial Day weekend off to a tasty start.

Hall wanted to use her featured time to promote Jones Valley Teaching Farm, a program that “encourages academic exploration and achievement through food, farming and the culinary arts” by working with schools, after-school programs and field trips.

“Besides being an extraordinary chef who makes beautiful, beautiful food, she also is really committed to giving back to the community,” Sloss-Corra said of Hall. “This weekend is an example of how she’s doing that.”

Hall said she had planned on having a bake sale at the traditional Market at Pepper Place on Mother’s Day weekend, but COVID-19 ended that plan when it led to the current contact-free, drive-thru market.

When she realized that many in her industry are not as busy with curbside service as they typically would be, she decided to see if she could pull off a bake sale anyway.

“I made a few phone calls and started texting people and it was really great we got these great responses,” she said.

The responses were partly because of the universal love of Jones Valley Teaching Farm and the Market at Pepper Place, but also because it gave the bakers and chefs something to focus on other than the effects of COVID-19.

Pre-orders will continue through Friday, May 29 for pickup at the market between 7 a.m. and noon on Saturday, May 30. Although items continue to sell out, more items may be added, so Hall said to continue checking the site. And don’t forget to order from the other farmers and vendors at the market.

Selling out didn’t come as a surprise to Hall.

“People want carbs, they want comfort, they want all of the things that make them feel loved and cherished,” Hall said.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

11 hours ago

Alabama farmers and ranchers affected by coronavirus can apply for monetary relief

Alabama farmers and ranchers affected by coronavirus can apply for monetary relief through the Farm Service Agency (FSA).

The Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) will provide up to $16 billion in direct payments to American agricultural producers who have suffered losses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s Farm and Agribusiness Management team will be working closely with FSA offices and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Service Centers to guide producers through the application process.


“The COVID-19 pandemic has plunged many of our farmers into more difficult situations,” said Jessica Kelton, regional extension agent and Farm and Agribusiness Management team leader. “So many producers were already struggling after a dry year with an uncertain market. Now, there are a lot of producers with wasted products because of the market declines related to the pandemic.”

The CFAP program specifically targets producers of agricultural products who have suffered a 5 percent or greater price decline, as well as losses, because of market supply chain disruptions.

Eligible commodities are divided into five groups.

  • Nonspecialty crops
  • Wool
  • Livestock
  • Dairy
  • Specialty crops

A complete list of specialty crops is available at Applying for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program through Farm Services Agency.

Alabama Extension economist Max Runge said unprecedented is a word used to describe many aspects of the coronavirus pandemic, but the payments to farmers as a result of this virus really are unprecedented.

“In my years as an agricultural economist, we’ve not seen assistance payments as a result of a pandemic,” Runge said. “While we’ve been in uncharted territory for an extended period of time with COVID-19, the farmers in Alabama have continued to operate their farms as usual facing adversity and uncertain markets. I am thankful that the importance of their work is being recognized through these payments.”


The USDA will begin accepting applications today. Producers may submit applications through Aug. 28. Applications will be accepted by email, scan or fax.

Extension professionals recommend contacting the local FSA office before sending applications. Runge said FSA offices will have an increased volume of applications and phone calls, so patience on the part of the producer will be appreciated.

USDA Service Centers will schedule appointments by phone only. Farmers can prepare for appointments by gathering records of recent farm sales and agricultural product inventories. Required application information includes:

  • Name and address
  • Personal information, including Tax ID number
  • Farm operating structure
  • Adjusted gross income
  • Direct deposit information

Necessary forms are available at farmers.gov/cfap.

Shortage fears this spring

According to Alabama Extension economist Ken Kelley, the financial assistance for producers comes at a time when many livestock and dairy producers find themselves receiving prices well below the 10-year average, even as consumers see higher prices in the grocery stores.

“There were significant supply chain and processing issues earlier in the spring,” Kelley said. “However, the U.S. was and is amid record production of beef, pork and poultry. The issue was not availability of animals, but the logistics of processing and movement.”

While the situation is improving, Kelley said it will be a while before processors catch back up to supply.

“In the meantime, the backlog of supply will continue to hold producer prices at lower levels,” Kelley said. “CFAP will be a welcome assistance as producers work through the effects of COVID-19 on agricultural processors and markets.”

Payment structure

In order to ensure the availability of funding throughout the application period, producers will receive 80 percent of the maximum total payment for their operation when their application is approved. Producers will receive remaining payments as funds are available.

More information

Find more information from Alabama Extension’s Farm and Agribusiness Management team at Applying for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program through Farm Services Agency.

Read more about the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program at www.farmers.gov/cfap. Additional and more detailed information from the USDA is available at its website, www.usda.gov.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

14 hours ago

USDA Farms to Families meals coming to Randolph County

Randolph County Economic Development Authority Director Bryant Whaley on Wednesday announced a partnership with the East Alabama Regional Planning Development Commission (EARPDC) and U.S. Department of Agriculture to supply free meals.

The USDA Farms to Families program will supply citizens a box meal of meat, fruit, and vegetables free of charge. The first day of the program will be held on Wednesday, June 10 followed by Wednesday, June 24. Meals will be dispersed from 9-11 a.m. at the Randolph County Economic Development Authority (RCEDA) office at 1218 Highway 431 in Roanoke, the agency said in a news release. There are no residency or age requirements to receive a meal. Anyone in the area is welcomed to get a meal.


A refrigerated truck will be parked beside the RCEDA office; participants will be able to pull up and volunteers will disperse the meals. People will not have to get out of their vehicles. Everyone needs to be mindful of the needs of others and not take more meals than needed for his/her family, the RCEDA said in a news release. The meals will be given out on a first-come, first-served basis. The RCEDA said participation is strongly encouraged because the rate of participation will decide the amount of meals distributed for future dates.

“Times are tough, unemployment is over 13%. People are hungry and need help. This not much, but at least it is a start,” Whaley said.

“We jumped at the chance to leverage our partnerships with GA Foods and the USDA to bring needed resources of our rural counties,” said EARPDC Director Lori Corley. “We knew that we could count on our local governments and our partner Randolph County Economic Development Authority to assist with local logistics.

“This is a true partnership of federal, state, regional and local governments working together to meet a basic need,” Corley said.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

16 hours ago

Alabama automakers adopt COVID-19 safety measures as production ramps up

Alabama automakers have been ramping up production following the COVID-19 outbreak, with strict new protocols in place to prevent the spread of the virus.

Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz all are implementing similar measures as employees return to work, including temperature checks, staggered shifts, frequent sanitizing and additional protective gear.

The restart of operations at the Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama engine plant in Huntsville has been smooth since it began in mid-May, officials said.

Employees are having their temperature taken each time they return to work, answering a questionnaire to identify any potential exposure to the virus and practicing social distancing on the job, during all lunch breaks and during shift changes.


There are also staggered shift patterns; frequent sanitizing in high-traffic areas; reconfigured conference rooms, cafeterias and other meeting spaces; and an increase in the use and availability of personal equipment such as face masks, face shields, gloves and hand sanitizer.

“Our phased approach to resuming operations allows employees and stakeholders at Toyota North American manufacturing plants and administrative facilities to return to a work environment that has implemented a number of policies and procedures to help ensure their health and safety,” the automaker said in a statement.


Honda Manufacturing of Alabama in Talladega County also gradually began resuming vehicle, engine and transmission production earlier this month.

Prior to resuming production, the automaker trained front-line leaders on new procedures and activities related to COVID-19 prevention, and employees learned about the new safety measures and re-trained on work processes.

Among the new safety efforts are temperature scanning of all Honda employees, suppliers, contractors and visitors. No one with a temperature of 100 degrees or higher is allowed inside Honda facilities.

Masks and cloth face coverings are required at all times inside all buildings unless people are eating or drinking, and Honda plants and offices are providing one new mask per day for every employee. Face shields also are required in certain areas, and cleaning and disinfecting activities have increased.

The plant has also staggered shift start times to reduce the number of people entering and leaving at one time; staggered lunch and break times, with reconfigured seating in those areas; limited capacity in restrooms and locker rooms; adjusted processes and workstations to achieve social distancing on the production line as much as possible; and increased signage to remind employees of social distancing, good hygiene and other safety measures.

“Honda will continue to maximize opportunities for associates to work remotely, while practicing social distancing for associates performing essential roles that require them to work at Honda facilities,” the company said in a statement.


Hyundai Motor Manufacturing of Alabama in Montgomery has been running a one-shift operation of its vehicle assembly processes since May 4, said company spokesman Robert Burns.

“Our engine machining and assembly operations are on a modified schedule to complement the needs of the automotive assembly processes,” he said.

HMMA benchmarked safety protocols implemented in Hyundai’s auto plants in South Korea, Burns added. The company also participated in idea-sharing conference calls, coordinated by the Original Equipment and Suppliers Association, to determine measures it would take to protect employees’ health.

Safety practices include: thermal temperature scanning and mask distribution upon arrival; requiring face masks to be worn at all time unless eating or drinking; staggering lunch breaks and shifts to reduce congestion in high-traffic areas; installing barriers in workstations and partitions on break tables; continuous cleaning of high-contact and high-touch surfaces; and promoting social distancing where possible.

At Mercedes-Benz U.S. International in Tuscaloosa County, production restarted in late April. The automaker said it had monitored and learned from other Mercedes plants around the world as Alabama workers returned, and the facility also implemented safety practices gleaned from groups like the West Alabama Chamber of Commerce, Alabama Automotive Manufacturers Association and the Alliance for Automotive Innovation.

Measures adopted include the mandatory wearing of face masks, temperature checks at entry and separation of workers in break rooms, cafes and common areas.

Production at the plant was suspended this past week due to supplier delays in Mexico, but it is expected to resume this week. MBUSI will also produce during the planned summer shutdown.

“We will continue to monitor federal and state guidance and regulations throughout this ramp up period, and will make whatever changes as may become necessary to ensure our team members’ safety and to ensure the required production capacities of the highly demanded SUV models coming out of Alabama,” the automaker said in a statement.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)