Time to invest in public education and stop punishing educators

By Craig FordBy Craig Ford

I have always been a believer in the value of education. And that is why I have always fought to protect our public schools and to fund them to the level that our children deserve.

But over the past three years, state leaders in Montgomery have done a very poor job of supporting our schools. And – for no other reason than pure, partisan politics – the leadership in Montgomery has actively worked against educators and school administrators.

When Republicans pushed through the Accountability Act earlier this year, they kept educators, school board members, local school superintendents and even the state superintendent of education in the dark. Republicans hailed this legislation as “historic,” but they did not feel the need to ask a single educator to weigh in on it or advise them when they were writing the bill!

But it’s not just that the Republicans in Montgomery ignore educators when writing legislation that dramatically affects our schools (which is kind of like writing a bill that affects the health care industry but refusing to talk to any doctors or nurses before you pass it).

The Republicans have actively worked to undermine educators by cutting funding and eliminating thousands of teachers from our schools, cutting educators’ pay and benefits in the middle of the biggest recession our country has faced since the 1930s, and eliminating the DROP program that helped keep experienced educators in the classroom.

The most blatant slap in the face to educators has been the issue of educators’ pay and benefits. One of the first bills the Republican Supermajority passed when they came to Montgomery in 2011 was to cut 2.5 percent from educators’ pay.

For three years, I, along with other Democrats, called on the legislature to pass a cost-of-living pay increase for educators because educators had not received a pay increase since 2007 and had been hit just as hard as the rest of us by the recession.

But the Republican Supermajority disagreed. In Etowah County, Sen. Phil Williams proposed giving educators a pay raise only if they had nine years or less of experience in the classroom.

In Jackson County, Sen. Shadrack McGill made headlines when he claimed that pay raises for educators were unbiblical, but pay raises for legislators like himself were needed to attract good people to the state legislature.

The Republicans promised a pay raise this year, but almost fumbled the ball again.

The House passed a two-percent pay increase for educators, not even enough to fully replace the 2.5 percent that was taken! As Dr. Gregory Graves of AEA recently said, “If someone steals $500 from you and then returns $400, they haven’t given you anything. They’ve still stolen $100 from you.”

Adding insult to injury, this pay increase (which is really only a partial pay reinstatement) was not given equally to all educators. Retired teachers and support personnel will get nothing. Just as bad, state and public employees are also being left out in the cold.

When Democrats controlled the legislature, state employees, educators and retirees all received an equal pay increase. But under the Republican Supermajority in Montgomery, only some educators get a partial pay reinstatement to replace the 2.5 percent that was taken from them.

Even more amazing was what happened when the budget got to the state senate. Senate Republicans, with Sen. Phil Williams leading the charge, cut the raise from 2 percent to 1 percent.

Thankfully, senate Republicans eventually backed down. But the way the Republican Supermajority in Montgomery handled the pay increase shows you how little it values our educators, and how little regard it has for public education in general.

Republicans have successfully worked to reduce educators’ influence over their own retirement system board of directors, and even tried to replace educators on the board with political appointees (thankfully, that legislation failed).

Our state government should be investing in our children and their education. We should be supporting educators and giving them the tools they need to teach our children. But instead, Republicans are taking revenge on educators because educators had the audacity to vote for Democrats or Robert Bentley instead Bradley Byrne and the Republican establishment candidates for state legislative races.

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