Democrats in the Alabama House of Representatives chastised the lack of transparency with how Republicans handled schools legislation last week with the Democratic leader stating that he believes it will lead to Republicans losing control of the Legislature and the governor’s office in the 2014 election.
House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, pledged that if voters return Democrats to the majority in 2014, that the first act of business for Democrats would be to repeal the School Accountability Act, which Republicans completely changed on Thursday to allow for tax credits for those in failing schools that could be used to go elsewhere including private schools.
Ford, although he criticized the actual legislation, said his biggest concern was with how the legislation was handled. He and other Democrats criticized the backroom deal that led to Republicans, after the House and Senate voted on the legislation, drastically altering the bill in conference committee and passing a bill in the two chambers, with little discussion, that was three times longer than their original bill that they voted on. Republican leaders, including Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, acknowledged that they would not have been able to pass the bill if the tax credits had been in the original legislation.
“This is the most sleazy approach that I ever witnessed in state politics, what they did Thursday,” said Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville.
Ford said “this shows what their true colors are about.”
Democrats also criticized Republicans for pushing through the legislation without consulting with state schools Superintendent Tommy Bice and with key education groups in the state. They said Republicans should listen to education experts. They also criticized Republicans for not knowing what the financial impact would be when they passed the legislation.
Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, and other Democrats criticized Republicans for running on transparency in 2010, but pushing through the legislation on Thursday after putting in the changes at the last minute without any discussion or debate.
Black said all schools are going to lose money and said the proposal was a way to divert public dollars to private schools.
Democrats said the tax credit would still not be enough for those without financial means to change schools so they would still be stuck in underperforming schools. Republicans said last week that the bill was intended to give parents and students in perpetually underperforming schools an opportunity for a better education.
“We cannot turn our eyes and our backs on these children in failing schools,” Ford said.
Rep. Oliver Robinson, D-Birmingham, and other Democrats expressed concerns about the effects on school athletics, stating that it would open up high school athletics for corruption. They said other public schools and private schools would then be able to use the legislation to poach quality athletes from underperforming schools.
Rep. Patricia Todd, a Birmingham Democrat, said she has not stood with her fellow Democrats for the last year and has worked to be independent and objective. She broke with fellow Democrats and voted for the original school flexibility bill and said she felt that schools needed that flexibility. Republicans altered that legislation to add the tax credits.
Todd said that the Republican actions on Thursday “destroys the foundation of Democracy” and stopped diverse ideas and public discussion.
“What happened last week appalls me and breaks the trust that many of us had that we could build a better Alabama,” she said.
Todd told people in the state “you were deceived” and said people who believe in Democracy “should be outraged.”
“They intentionally kept you in the dark about what their intentions are,” she said.
– posted by Sebastian Kitchen