Lawmakers, educators engage in public forum

Local legislators answered questions from local educators in a public forum on Jan. 7.  Pictured above, from left, Rep. Becky Nordgren, House Minority Leader Craig Ford, Rep. Mack Butler and Sen. Phil Williams.Local legislators answered questions from local educators in a public forum on Jan. 7. Pictured above, from left, Rep. Becky Nordgren, House Minority Leader Craig Ford, Rep. Mack Butler and Sen. Phil Williams.

By Donna Thornton/News Editor

Members of Etowah County’s legislative delegation met with more than 100 educators and interested members of the public – and state Superintendent of Education Dr. Tommy Bice by video – to discuss the future of education Tuesday evening.

The education forum, held on the Gadsden State Community College campus, was arranged by Delta Kappa Gamma, a society of key women educators and the student Democrats and Republicans at GSCC.

Bice had planned to attend in person, but was unable to make it, resulting in the arranged “Go to Meeting” video connection..

Bice spoke to the group before the question and answer session with lawmakers began, and based on audience response he brought a message educators were glad to receive.

Bice told those gathered that Alabama schools will focus on preparing students for the world after high school – for college, other post-secondary training or for work – rather than concentrating solely on standardized test scores.

The high school graduation exam is history, Bice told them, and he encouraged educators to seek creative approaches to meeting student needs.

The goal of the state’s schools is to improve the graduation rate by 2 percent each year; Bice said last year, it increased by 3 percent and he believes numbers to be released next week will record a substantial increase over that number.

After Bice spoke, members of the legislative delegation: House Miniority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, District 28; Rep. Becky Nordgren, R-Gadsden, District 29; Mack Butler, R-Rainbow City, District 30; and Sen. Phil Williams, R-Gadsden; District 10, faced the educators to answer questions they had received prior to the forum.

Based on the questions asked, the educators had a number of concerns: the Alabama Accountability Act, their insurance coverage, the education budget, and repaying money to the state’s “rainy day” fund.

Educators present seemed to have no love for the state’s accountability act – which allow gives tax credits to families who want to move their children from failing schools to other public schools or even to private schools. Thus far, only 52 children moved from their zoned school districts.

Nordgren said considering the act now, she wished the state had stuck to a flexibility act instead. She said she did not want to see anyone make money off the accountability act.

Butler said his thoughts on the act were “wait and see.” He said he believes time should be allowed to give the act a try, and review it “once we see that one inner city child” for whom the act “makes a difference in his life.”

Williams said education tax dollars are for educating children, and if children are not getting an education because of the zip code they live in, they should be able to go to a school where they can receive an education. He said he believes it has the ability to do great things, if given the time it needs.

Ford, however, said there is one solution for the accountability act.

“Repeal, repeal, repeal,” Ford said, to the apparent approval of the audience. “There is no good part to this bill.” There are a hundred better ways to spend the education dollars now funding provisions of the accountability act.

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