1 year ago

Ivey, legislative leaders start bipartisan push for state school board referendum — ‘It’s time to take the lead, Alabama’

BIRMINGHAM — Governor Kay Ivey on Monday announced her “Take the Lead, Alabama” initiative, an effort to raise awareness over K-12 education issues in the state and rally support for an important referendum on the state’s March 2020 primary election ballot.

Legislative leaders from both parties joined Ivey for a press conference at the McWane Science Center to express their steadfast, bipartisan commitment to education reform in the state of Alabama, calling on the people to approve SB 397 in the upcoming referendum.

This constitutional amendment, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston), represents a historic overhaul of the state school board. The proposal would change Alabama’s current, elected State Board of Education to a governor-appointed Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education.

SB 397 received overwhelming support in the Alabama legislature during the 2019 regular session. The Senate passed the legislation unanimously and the House vote was 78-21.

The constitutional amendment would also establish the Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education, appointed by the commission, to replace the current state superintendent position. The governor’s appointments and the secretary must be confirmed by the Senate and will be required to have the geographical, gender and racial diversity that reflects the state public-school population.

Alabama is one of only six states with an elected school board appointing a chief state school officer. All of Alabama’s neighboring states have governor-appointed school boards.

Additionally, the Yellowhammer State’s public education system was ranked number 50 in the United States in a report published last month and has consistently been stagnant (at best) near the bottom of other national K-12 educational rankings for years.

Speaking to attendees at the Monday press conference, Ivey emphasized this effort is a continuation of the core promise she made to the people of Alabama when she assumed office in 2017: Alabama’s education system has been broken for years, starting with its system of governance at the top, and Ivey is dedicated to righting the ship.

“Since taking office, I’ve made improving education a top priority. As a former teacher, I recognize that strong leadership and a strong plan are necessary components to improving our education system,” Ivey said. “Through my ‘Take the Lead, Alabama’ initiative, we will shake up how we do things in our state to improve educational outcomes for students in every region. I encourage every Alabamian to join me in supporting this constitutional amendment, so that Alabama can take the lead!”

Marsh, after spearheading the legislative side of the proposal, is continuing to be an integral advocate ahead of the referendum.

“Our current system is broken,” Marsh has said previously. “We need systemic changes to our education system and it starts at the top.”

At the press conference, he thanked Ivey for her support and dedication to improving education in the state

“No issue is more important in Alabama than education,” Marsh stressed. “Next March, the voters will have the chance to send a strong message that we want a school board that is capable of making decisions in the best interests of our schools, teachers and students.”

The top states in The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) —Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Virginia, Florida, Indiana, Vermont, South Dakota, Iowa — have governor-appointed boards. Studies have shown that states where governors appoint state education chiefs perform better than states where chiefs gain their posts by other means.

Marsh added, “I believe students learn best when innovation is allowed to take place in the classroom. If we have a school board that is made up of qualified individuals who are held accountable, we can increase local control, reduce the amount of time the Legislature spends on education reform and put the power back where it belongs, in the hands of educators.”

This constitutional amendment would also establish the commission’s functions, as provided by general law, and would also specifically include emphasis on implementing a consistent course of study standards; comprehensive teacher certification and professional development programs; and an accountability and assessment program.

This explicitly includes that SB 397 would mandate that the newly formed commission replace Common Core in Alabama.

Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper) has previously said, “This is a solid reform — I appreciate Senator Marsh for moving this bill forward, Governor Kay Ivey for supporting it, and I urge the voters of Alabama to approve its passage in March.”

House Ways and Means Education Chairman Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa) carried the bill in the House.

Additional legislative headliners like House Majority Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville), House Majority Whip Danny Garrett (R-Trussville), State Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur), State Rep. Allen Baker (R-Brewton), State Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), State Rep. Pebblin Warren (D-Tuskegee) and State Rep. Barbara Boyd (D-Anniston) were on hand Monday to show their support, saying educating Alabama’s students transcends politics.

At the end of the press conference, Ivey also signed SB 398, a Marsh-sponsored bill passed as a companion to SB 397 that would ensure the governor would consult with members of the minority caucuses in the legislature when appointing minority members to the Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education, if the referendum is successful.

“I applaud the Legislature for giving final passage to a law that will guarantee the Legislature’s minority party a strong voice during the appointment process. Bipartisanship has and will continue to be a major focus of my administration,” Ivey remarked.

She added, “This legislation reaffirms that in order for us to make substantial and positive changes to our state’s education system, we must all work together. By doing so, we will undoubtedly create a better future for our students… It’s time to take the lead, Alabama!”

For more information on the dire statistics related to Alabama’s education rankings and outcomes, along with more information on the “Take the Lead, Alabama” campaign, click here.

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

Ledbetter: Alabama’s teachers are standing tall with return to classroom instruction

All of the personality traits, values and life lessons that we carry with us as adults were shaped and instilled in us by the people we encountered in childhood. For many, the strongest influences came from our schoolteachers, who opened new worlds of knowledge and taught us skills that remain with us today.

Consider for a moment the music teacher who taught you to play an instrument, the math teacher who led you to a love of numbers, the history teacher who brought to life the stories of our nation’s past, or the English teacher who inspired you to love great literature.

Teaching is one of the few professions whose impact continues to last for decades after the individual who does the job retires.

As many children across Alabama are preparing to return to school even while the coronavirus pandemic continues, teachers have never been more important or vital or deserving of our deepest appreciation.

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Returning to brick-and-mortar school instruction will, hopefully, restore a sense of normalcy to our children’s lives in these decidedly abnormal times.

A return to the classroom and even resuming the online instruction that some are adopting will also help our students maintain their education progress and continue the important social and emotional development that interaction with their peers and instructors allows.

Our English second language learners will receive the communication skills they need in order to better assimilate, and many low-income students will receive the healthy nourishment from the school lunch program that might be denied them at home.

Given the current circumstances and environment, I recognize that some of our public school employees may have a sense of trepidation about returning to school, and that is certainly understandable. Wearing a face mask to do something as simple as shopping for groceries, paying for gas or walking into a restaurant offers all of us a constant reminder that COVID-19 is a very contagious virus.

But our teachers and educators are setting their concerns aside and answering the call to duty.

I know that Gov. Kay Ivey, State Superintendent Eric Mackey and the staff of the Alabama Department of Education took great care in developing the “Roadmap to Reopening Alabama Schools,” and local school boards are being equally diligent in creating and implementing their own safety guidelines.

The importance of sanitization will be stressed more than ever before, and billions of dollars made available to Alabama through the federal CARES Act will help ensure that any resources that are needed to reopen schools safely will be readily available.

As the majority leader of the Alabama House, I can also offer assurances that the legislature stands ready to pass legislation or make appropriations that are necessary to ease the return to classroom instruction once we are in session.

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted an even deeper appreciation of the frontline heroes who have remained on the job and provided the most essential services throughout the crisis.

Doctors and nurses in our hospitals and health clinics; grocery store and other retail employees; law enforcement officers, emergency workers and firefighters; postal workers; sanitation workers; restaurant personnel; and those in dozens of other professions are among those who continued working even when times were their toughest.

I am proud to say that the teachers, school nurses, administrators and support personnel in Alabama’s schools also rank high upon the list of those who have stood tall, and their already invaluable service to our state is even more important to students and parents in each of our cities, towns and crossroads today.

Helen Keller, one of Alabama’s most inspirational figures, once said, “It was my teacher’s genius, her quick sympathy, her loving tact which made the first years of my education so beautiful. It was because she seized the right moment to impart knowledge that made it so pleasant and acceptable to me.”

As I close by wishing everyone a safe, happy and healthy school year, we would all do well to keep Helen Keller’s words in mind.

State Rep. Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) serves as majority leader in the Alabama House of Representatives

5 hours ago

Alabama Ag Commissioner Pate gives update on unsolicited seed packages from China, urges public to stay ‘vigilant’

MONTGOMERY — Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI) Commissioner Rick Pate gave an update Monday afternoon on the spate of seed packets from China that people across Alabama have received in recent weeks despite never having ordered anything.

Pate said that after the state seed labs had performed tests on the packets they had collected from individuals across Alabama, and none of them proved to be dangerous.

“Right at 50% of them proved be some kind of weed flower … 41% were vegetables, and 9% were herbs … we found no noxious compounds, no dangerous compounds,” said Pate at the event.

However, he warned, “They might send out the first seeds that weren’t treated with anything, have a sense of security come about, and then later send something out that could be harmful.”

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The commissioner further urged members of the public to refrain from planting any unsolicited seeds and continue to report them to the Department.

“At the very least something criminal has gone on here,” stated Pate, referencing laws that prevent seeds from being moved across state lines without being inspected by the relevant agencies.

Pate said his department had collected 252 seed samples as of Monday morning.

A total of 385 individuals in all but 11 of Alabama’s 67 counties have received one of the packets, according to information relayed at the press conference. State workers will be collecting the remaining samples soon.

(AL. Dept. of Ag/Contributed)

“Because we’ve got such a good food and drug lab, because we’ve got such a good seed lab, we knew this was inside of our comfort zone,” Pate said of the decision to conduct the seed tests in-house as opposed to shipping them to the federal government.

Andy Tipton, division director of Food Safety and Ag Compliance, said that 25 states had reported similar seed packets showing up at consumers’ doorsteps. He added that the ADAI was turning over all relevant info to the FBI, who were monitoring the situation.

Pate further told Yellowhammer News that one of the prevailing theories remained that the cause was an internet seller running a scam to artificially inflate their customer numbers and create opportunities for fake reviews.

He ended his press conference saying, “We have no idea the reason for this happening, but it doesn’t mean we can stop being vigilant.”

Any Alabamian still receiving one of the packets can report it here.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

6 hours ago

Alabama basketball star John Petty returning for senior season

University of Alabama star forward John Petty, Jr. will return for his senior season, the player announced on Monday.

The Huntsville native was a second-team All-SEC honoree this past season, after leading the Southeastern Conference in three-point percentage.

Petty was considering entering the 2020 NBA Draft, however he decided to return for a final season in Tuscaloosa after evaluating his prospects. Another college season could see Petty lock down his chance at being a first-round pick.

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Tide head coach Nate Oats released a statement on Monday afternoon celebrating Petty’s return.

“It’s great to have John back for his senior year,” Oats said. “He is certainly one of the best, if not the best, shooters in the country which is extremely important to us with how we play.”

“He’s made it clear that it’s his goal to become a first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and we’re going to work with him to make sure he’s in the best position to reach that goal. Let’s get to work!” the coach concluded.

Follow along with the Bama men’s basketball program here.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

6 hours ago

State of Alabama, University of Alabama System officials unveil GuideSafe app aiming to keep schools virus-free

Key figures from Alabama’s government and university systems joined to announced the new GuideSafe platform that bills itself as the key for students to safely return to college campuses amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The GuideSafe platform will help the state fulfill its promise to test every single college student before they return to campus, and the platform will provide a space for ongoing health monitoring throughout the semester.

The unveiling took place over videoconference, where State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, University of Alabama System Chancellor Finis “Fess” St. John and other key players detailed the importance of GuideSafe to the upcoming semester.

GuideSafe was developed by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) in conjunction with the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) and tech company MotionMobs. It will be provided to any educational institution in the state that wishes to use it.

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Governor Kay Ivey apportioned some of Alabama’s CARES Act funds for the development of GuideSafe and the universal free testing for college students.

St. John on Monday praised Ivey’s “decisive action to provide funding” for the testing initiative and other campus reopening measures.

(Click for higher resolution version that will open in new tab)

GuideSafe will be accessible via app on smartphones and tablets and via web browser on any computer. Students will be invited to join the platform in the coming weeks.

One of the key features of the GuideSafe app is that it will track the location of students via smartphone and then inform them if they have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus.

“This new app – using Google- and Apple-led technology and created by UAB faculty, staff and MotionMobs for the people of Alabama – is a necessary tool in our effort to return to college campuses safely this fall,” said UAB President Ray Watts.

The app also allows students and faculty to report symptoms as they experience them, and get directed to a nearby testing site if necessary.

“The combination of these tools enables every participating college, university and K-12 school to engage faculty, students and staff regarding on-going monitoring of symptoms, exposure and risks of acquiring COVID-19,” said Sue Feldman, professor and director of graduate programs in health informatics at UAB.

A general factsheet on GuideSafe is available here.

Watch:

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

6 hours ago

Trump fires TVA board chair after outsourcing uproar

President Donald Trump on Monday announced that he was removing the Tennessee Valley Authority’s board chairman, Skip Thompson, an Alabamian.

Thompson, a resident of Decatur, is the president and CEO of Corporate Billing, a subsidiary of Birmingham-based National Bank of Commerce. He previously served as the president and CEO of both First American Bank in Decatur and First Commercial Bank in Huntsville, as well as serving on the board of Decatur Utilities.

Trump appointed Thompson to the TVA board in 2018. He was elected chairman of the board last year.

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The president on Monday cited TVA’s plan to outsource information technology jobs overseas as the reason for firing Thompson and one other board member. Trump warned the other board members that they would be next if the outsourcing continued. The president also called on them to replace the organization’s CEO, who Trump said was making far too much money.

The president added, “Let this serve as a warning to any federally appointed board: If you betray American workers, you will hear two words: ‘You’re fired.’”

The TVA is the electricity provider for much of North Alabama. Self-described as “a corporate agency of the United States,” it is regulated at the federal level and not under the jurisdiction of the Alabama Public Service Commission.

Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05) applauded Trump’s move on Monday.

“TVA fires AMERICANS & hires cheap foreign labor,” the North Alabama congressman tweeted. “TVA executive salaries EXORBITANT. TVA=NO competition, unlike private sector execs who compete to earn profits to earn pay… WAY TO GO [President Trump]!”

RELATED: Doug Jones: ‘The TVA has lost its way’

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn