Jul
28
2014

State Leaders Need to Work For Us, Not Against Us

I believe that education is the great equalizer. If you give a child a quality education, then with hard work they can make their dreams come true. That is why it is so disheartening to see millions of dollars taken from their education every year so that a handful of (mostly wealthy) donors can get yet another tax break.

It seems the politicians in Montgomery have forgotten the simple truth that education leads to prosperity. Instead, they operate by a different truth: whatever big businesses and special interest groups want, they get. And all too often, that means cutting our schools and hard working families short.

Millions of dollars our school systems desperately need will be taken from them every single year from now on, all so a small group of rich political donors can receive yet another tax break. This mind-boggling law was sold as a good thing for working families, when the reality is it’s all about protecting the super rich and well connected.

How is that fair?

Now, my parents taught me the same thing yours did: life sometimes isn’t fair. And I know that it isn’t. I’m teaching my kids the exact same thing; sometimes you don’t always get what you want. But in this instance, Alabama should be fair.

Working families need to be given a fair chance at a quality education. Instead, it seems, the super rich are getting more, while the middle class gets less. A quality education isn’t some new video game, or asking to stay out an hour past curfew. A quality education is our children’s right.

We need to start making education policies based on what is best for our children and working families—not the super rich who are just looking for yet another tax break.

Even if the benefactors of these tax breaks were to give out 1,000 scholarships this year, hundreds of thousands of children would still be left behind. These students would be trapped in failing schools, or schools that have had their budget cut significantly, all for the tax breaks of a select few.

Legislative leaders told Alabamians that this program gives children a choice of where to go to school. Unfortunately, most children find themselves with fewer choices now than they did before. This law directly hurts working families ability to give their children a quality education.

What the supporters of this law seem to forget is that working families are hurting. With the unemployment rate near a record high, the leadership in Montgomery needs to be focusing on protecting our schools, and the interests of the middle class. By protecting our schools, we are equipping the next generation of Alabamians to become prosperous.

But instead of protecting our schools, this past week Gov. Bentley actually proposed taking more money out of our schools to pay for – you guessed it – more tax breaks for a select few, specifically out-of-state corporations.

Instead of trying to raid the education budget even more, the Governor and legislative leaders need to look at alternative solutions instead of balancing the state budgets on the backs of working families and at the expense of our children’s education. We need to focus on small, Alabama-based businesses and growing our economy in a way that works for everyone, not just an elite few.

We need leadership in Montgomery that is interested in helping the working families of our state, not hurting them, which is exactly what this crazy law does.

We need to elect people who care about our schools and understand the value of a quality education for all of Alabama’s children. Improving our schools, rather than abandoning them, is the key to prosperity for us all!

###

Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.

Jul
22
2014

Simple Principle: Jobs Mean Revenue

There is a simple business principle that many understand and that economists have spent years dissecting and discussing in books, on television and in newspaper articles: creating jobs for people means generating revenue for all sectors.

Unfortunately, for Alabama, there are people in Leadership that don’t understand that simple principle. Instead of wanting to create jobs that will help solve the budget problems our state is facing, and ease some of the pressure on working families, the Leadership in Montgomery is too focused on pleasing their party, special interest groups and big businesses.

We need to move Alabama forward. That cannot happen without bi-partisan leadership and working with whomever is elected governor, by thinking first and foremost about the middle class.

Working families have been hurting over the past four years, that’s no secret. It’s getting harder and harder for these families to make ends meet. Without serious job creation, it’s only going to get harder.

Over the past four years, all political players have talked about job creation pretty heavily—me included. But when our state’s unemployment rate has remained at nearly 7% with an adjustment for seasonal employment, according to the most recent report by the state’s Department of Labor, we need to be not only talking about job creation, but also actually creating some jobs! Alabama hasn’t seen a rate this high since fall 2012!

What exactly does the Leadership propose to do to cut down on the unemployment rate and help working families, when the report shows that 10,000 fewer Alabamians, after seasonal adjustment, were employed in June of this year than the previous year? So far, it’s been nothing. The unemployment rate has risen nearly a whole percentage point in less than six months under our current leadership.

The middle class has seen no relief. Things are getting harder. The major industries, construction, finance, education and healthcare, have each cut jobs over the last year the state’s report shows. And still, some current state leaders want to fire as many as 9% of public employees. This comes at a time when law enforcement and other critical agencies are already underfunded and understaffed.

Working families aren’t the only ones feeling the pinch of hard times thanks to a lack of job creation. Since there are no jobs, people don’t feel as comfortable spending money, which hurts our small businesses. It’s extremely hard to grow a business, and create jobs, as a small business owner when state leaders are more interested in taking care of special interests. Every business owner in Alabama deserves to be not only heard, but also appreciated and looked after-not just the big ones that make sizable political donations.

We need voices in Montgomery that are not only concerned with working families and small businesses in radio and television interviews; but ones that are actually focused on helping the middle class—ones whose track record proves a strong voting history in the middle class’ favor. Leaders that are focused on making sure that working families in Alabama don’t have to simply scrape by and only know hard times.

###

Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.

Jul
14
2014

Every Child Deserves A Quality Education

Maybe it’s because I am a father and my wife is a teacher that I have a unique perspective. But I believe, wholeheartedly, that every child deserves a quality education. A quality education regardless of if they are zoned for this school or that school, can afford private school or can’t afford private school.

Alabama should provide a quality education for all of our children. It shouldn’t be a luxury. Our state’s school system should be nurturing and encouraging each child’s gifts—not simply calling some children worthy and some unworthy. How this is even acceptable in the year 2014, I have no idea.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what the Accountability Act does. The act literally is the government’s way of telling some children they are failures and don’t deserve a quality education while other children do.

It is a flawed law. Rather than fixing the failing school for everyone, it ships the children essentially deemed “worthy of better” to a different school, while the other children are left with any even worse school than before. Why is our state government giving up on our children and our schools?

Giving up on our children and our schools is never the answer. It should never be our government’s answer. Yet, under the current law that’s exactly what we’ve done. The current leadership in Montgomery has sent a very clear and direct message to the people of Alabama by pushing the Accountability Act into law: they are only interested in helping some of our children while thousands of others are left behind without any hope.

Because isn’t that what our school are, hope for the future? Equipping our children, the future leaders and decision makers of Alabama, with the tools they need to find jobs, support their families and help build a better Alabama?

How can we expect these children to want to stay in Alabama, make lives for themselves and help continue to make our state the best it can be, when our own government has literally labeled some of them as failures at such a young age?

The answer is simple. We can’t. That is why we must put people in leadership positions that will repeal the Accountability Act and recommit our state to supporting education—rather than simply abandoning it.

The best way to do that isn’t through backroom deals, or pushing questionable laws into affect. It’s by a strong show of support to our schools, to our children and to the future. It’s not by embracing the Accountability Act.

Alabama has a lot of things to be proud of. And our citizens are a prideful bunch, just go to Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Troy or Auburn on any given fall Saturday and see just how proud we can, rightly, be.

Unfortunately, the Accountability Act isn’t one of the things we should be proud of. But it’s not too late. We can change the law, and give our children a better chance. Give them something to be proud of, and show our children that we are proud of them.

###

Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.

Jul
11
2014

We Deserve More Than Broken Promises

It’s politics 101. You don’t make promises you can’t keep or lead people on to think you might do something you know you will not be able to do.

But that is exactly what Gov. Bentley did to educators this year.

At the start of the year, Gov. Bentley proposed a 2.5 percent pay raise for teachers and support personnel. Newspaper headlines read, “Gov. Bentley uses State of the State Address to promise teacher raises.” The governor made it clear that he and the legislature would provide educators with their first cost-of-living pay increase since 2008.

But the governor didn’t stop there. Two months later, Gov. Bentley told the press that he would veto any budget passed by the legislature if it did not include a pay raise and fully funded educators’ health benefits.

The legislature called the governor’s bluff and passed a budget that funded the healthcare benefits, but did not include the promised pay raise.

The governor took one week to consider his options, and then chose to break his promise and sign the budget without the raise.

As he signed it, the governor once again gave educators false hope by suggesting he might call a special legislative session to pass a mid-year raise. His exact words were, “I will keep a close watch on incoming revenues over the next few months, and will consider asking the Legislature to support a mid-year pay raise for teachers and support personnel if the revenues are there to support it.”

To no one’s surprise, this week Gov. Bentley told the press that revenues were coming up short and we probably will not have a special session to consider the raises.

At this point, it’s not even about the money. I think most educators would just be happy not to be lied to and led on anymore.

It’s no secret that our public schools have been under attack ever since the Republican Supermajority took control of the legislature. Rather than giving pay increases, Republican legislators cut educators, state employees and retirees’ pay. As educators retired, Republican leaders in the Legislature refused to replace them, leading to larger class sizes and less one-on-one time between students and their teachers.

Gov. Bentley and our Republican legislative leaders call this “right-sizing government.” Funny how “right-sizing” government is wrong-sizing our classrooms and negatively impacting our children’s education.

There have been so many other assaults on educators and our schools, that there simply isn’t enough room in this column to discuss them all. But, of course, one of the most significant was the Accountability Act-not just because it continues to take millions of dollars out of our schools without giving students the choices they were promised, but because it also sends a message that some schools can’t be fixed and the only solution is to ship out a select few and let the others continue to suffer.

What kind of message is that to send to our kids?

It’s not just the policies; it’s the mentality of our state leaders. Our legislature is more interested in playing partisan political games and getting revenge on AEA than they are in doing what is best for our children. Even the governor has twice this year made promises he knew how couldn’t keep to our educators. He made these promises because this is an election year and he wanted to get back the support of the educators who were so critical to getting him elected in the first place.

Instead of abandoning our schools and misleading our educators, we should be working to help struggling students and schools and treating our teachers, support personnel and school administrators like the professionals they are.

Alabama deserves so much more from our state leaders. We can’t afford four more years of broken promises, misleading statements, and, above all, assaults on our children’s education.

###

Rep. Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the Minority Leader in the Alabama House of Representatives.