Archives for category: Alabama

Mercedes Schneider calls our attention to Ann Marie Corgill’s letter of farewell to her students. As you may recall, Corgill is Alabama’s teacher of the year for 2014-15. She decided to resign after she was informed that she needed to get new certification to teach the grade she was teaching when she won the award. She had taught for 21 years in grades 1-6. Her salary check was delayed for two months. She got the message, and she resigned.


Here is a small part of her letter to her students:


Rules and regulations and certification requirements can separate us physically, but they will never be able to separate your hearts from mine. I will help you, learn with you, write you, and even talk on the phone with you (even though I hate talking on the phone).


I want each of you to always remember that YOU are more important than tests, scores, federal laws, teacher certifications, or hurtful words that others say. It’s your hard work, your never-give-up-attitude, your determination to become a team, your willingness to apologize and forgive others, and your character that matter most….not just now, but forever.


Please remember that I know what it is that makes each of you special and unique, and I want you to promise to continue to learn, live hopefully, and tell the complete and wonderful story of you. Once a Corgill kid, always a Corgill kid. Don’t ever forget that.


Alabama sage Larry Lee, a strong supporter of public education, ordered 100 copies of “Education Inc.” he offered it free on his blog and was flooded with requests from across the state.

“Within 24 hours I had more requests than I could fill. They came from 38 counties, from nine school superintendents, from a bunch of principals, from deans of schools of education, associations and more. Person after person said they wanted to show this to their club, to their retirees group, to their neighbors, at education workshops, etc.”

To get your own copy, go here.

This is an amazing story. Governor Robert Bentley of Alabama appointed to the state Board of Education a 28-year-old man named Matt Brown, who has no knowledge or experience about public education. Even more amazing is that he never attended a public school, didn’t send his own children to public schools, and is contemptuous of public schools. He is a conservative Christian who doesn’t believe in public education or “government schools.”

The story was first reported in Larry Lee’s blog. Lee has been writing about public education for many years. He did a noteworthy study of outstanding (and underfunded) rural schools in Alabama. He was shocked that the Governor would appoint someone with no knowledge of public schools to the state board. Worse, Brown led a campaign to defeat a tax increase to build new schools in his district.

Larry Lee wrote:

Governor Bentley stunned Alabama educators with his July 16 announcement that he was appointing 28 year old Matt Brown of Fairhope to replace Al Thompson on the state board of education. The fact that he never attended public schools, has said his children will not attend them and has no known involvement of supporting public schools was like setting a match to dry kindling. Within two days of posting an article on this blog about the appointment I had 20,000 “hits.”

The reaction was loudest in Baldwin County, where Brown is from. And it is yet to die down along the coast. This is hardly a surprise since Brown was the face of an active effort last March to defeat a school tax vote. The campaign preceding the vote was contentious and divisive. Supporters of the measure felt that Brown and his followers were less than honest and forthright with their information. The Secretary of State’s office said the Brown troops were in violation of the Fair Campaign Practices Act.

Whereas losing candidates for office may lick their wounds for a spell after election day, then go about their business, mothers who feel that someone took aim at their child’s education hold grudges much, much longer.

The governor was aware of this. People told the governor’s staff that Brown carried too much baggage and should not be appointed. Obviously this advice was ignored.

Valerie Strauss reports on this story here. She includes a letter that Larry Lee wrote to the Governor, expressing his outrage about this outrageous appointment.

She notes that Alabama Governor Bentley–an ardent supporter of charters and vouchers– was recently appointed vice chair of the National Governors Association’s committee on education and the workforce.

Larry Lee started his own blog, which is a good thing, because he understands Alabama politics and cares deeply about improving public education.

In this post, he follows the money that preceded the legislature’s approval of charter schools.

He writes:

Even an amateur swami with a cloudy crystal ball could have told us how the recent vote to approve charter schools in Alabama would play out. In fact, he didn’t even have to look at his ball, they could have looked at 2014 campaign financial disclosures instead.

There they would have found a trail of contributions of thousands and thousands of dollars from charter supporters to friendly legislators.

This bill passed the Senate 22-12 the first time it was voted on. One senator did not vote, eight Democrats voted against it, as did the one Independent and three Republicans. All yes votes were Republican.

Interesting that in the deep South, the Democrats know what “school choice” will lead to. Segregation.

Where did the money come from?

The “Big Three” donors supporting charters last year were Bob Riley’s Alabama 2014 PAC, the Business Council of Alabama’s Progress PAC (run by Billy Canary) and Speaker Mike Hubbard’s Storm PAC. (These three have also been strong supporters of the Alabama Accountability Act.)

Together, they spent $5.1 million dollars in 2014 in hopes of having friendly politicians in place. Obviously their plan worked well. This money came from an assortment of sources. While BCA depends on their Alabama members for support, the Riley and Hubbard PACs cast a wider net and got checks from across the country. Companies such a Pfizer, General Electric, Anheuser Busch, Cemex and International Paper donated. As did pay day lenders and charter supporters like StudentsFirst and K12….

Let’s take a closer look at how the pot was split in the Senate.

None of the eight Democrats or the lone Independent who voted against charters got a penny from Riley, Hubbard or BCA. The Republican who did not vote got $1,000 and the three Republicans who voted “nay” got a total of $77,000, mostly from BCA.

Of the 22 Republican “yea” votes, one who few thought would win, got nothing. Of the remaining 21, six had either no opposition or token opposition. They only received $8,000 total. The remaining 15 got $987,815 in all, an average of $65,854 each. However, some were more equal than others as five got more than $100,000 each.

In addition to contributions from the “Big Three,” StudentsFirst, a Sacramento, CA group with 10 lobbyists in Alabama, spent $61,958. And the Alabama Federation for Children, which was solely supported by checks from millionaires in California, Michigan and Arkansas spent $101,748. Evidently “Alabama values” include California millionaires.

In all, the 15 senators who had substantial challenges got $1,142,522 from the charter supporters just mentioned for an average of $76,168.

Follow the money. It’s rightwing money to privatize public education.

Alabama became the 43rd state to endorse the creation of privately managed, publicly funded charter schools.

In average, charter schools do not get better academic results than public schools and are usually more segregated than public schools.

This video, shown on PBS, documents a wonderful story: Two high schools in Birmingham, Alabama, collaborate to produce “To Kill a Mockingbird.” One high school is all-black, the other is all-white. We are reminded that desegregation peaked in the 1980s, according to the UCLA Civil Rights Project.


The video shows high school students working together to present the play. The video devotes more time to the historical setting of the book, the realities of life in Birmingham and the segregated South than to the production. This is not a disadvantage but a strength because the play and the novel are set in time. The video includes film footage of the segregated South in the 1930s (which the book portrays) and the 1950s (when the book was written and the civil rights movement was on the march). It includes film footage of civil rights protests in Birmingham, when the police loosed dogs on black demonstrators. It interviews black and white adults about life under segregation. It includes clips from the film that starred Gregory Peck and home-made films from local families. It interviews the actors who appeared in the 1962 film and the students who appear in the play today. It raises the irony of white families who trusted black servants to raise their children yet would not allow black children to attend the local schools or universities.


It is a must-see, partly for the ideas of the play, but mostly for its realistic portrayal of segregation then and now and for the reactions of today’s students. It is an important story about our history, our past and our present.

Senator Tom Harkins of Iowa, who is retiring this year, has long been known as a liberal and a champion of students in higher education. However, he recently proposed to cut the Pell grant program for low-income students while increasing payments to loan contractors. This is bizarre, to say the lease.


Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate education committee and the appropriations subcommittee in charge of federal education expenditures, has proposed taking $303 million from the Pell grant program to increase revenues for some of the nation’s biggest student loan specialists, according to a July 24 version of a 2015 fiscal year spending bill now being negotiated by congressional leaders.


Student advocates and congressional aides largely missed Harkin’s move last summer — partly because the full text of the spending bill wasn’t publicly released until six weeks after Harkin’s subcommittee approved it. They only noticed it in recent days as congressional negotiators work off his bill in the rush to finalize discussions on the federal government’s 2015 spending plans….


Student advocates said they’re outraged.


“I am appalled that Senator Harkin would put servicers — who profit by hundreds of millions of dollars a year — over the needs of low-income students,” said Alexandra Flores-Quilty, vice president of the United States Student Association. “Taking funding out of Pell and using it to pay private student loan servicers goes directly against the interests of students.”


Harkin has also floated the possibility of taking $2 billion out of the Pell program to use for other federal programs, according to Democratic and Republican congressional aides. Harkin reportedly dismissed concerns that such a move would affect students, according to Politico.


It was unclear Friday whether congressional negotiators were still discussing the $2 billion cut. Student advocates warned that if it were to occur, the Pell program would face a $3.6 billion deficit in the fiscal year beginning next October and the likelihood of deep cuts.


For Harkin, a longtime liberal who retires from Congress in January after a 30-year Senate career, the move risks damaging his reputation as an advocate for college students struggling to afford rising tuition.


“Senator Harkin has built a legacy on being a champion for students trying to afford college. We’d be deeply disappointed to see his subcommittee abandon its support for the Pell grant and jeopardize the aspirations of millions of low-income young people,” said Jennifer Wang, policy director at Young Invincibles, an advocacy organization that represents 18 to 34 year-olds.





Michelle Rhee is determined to see that every legislature is taken over by hard-right Republicans who support her campaign against teachers and public schools.

One of her current targets is Alabama.

Here is where she is sending money. All but one of those listed below are Republicans, except Patrick Sellers, who challenged a Democratic incumbent and lost. Governor Bentley returned the $5,000 contribution.

As of current reporting, StudentsFirst has contributed a total of $100,000 to nine candidates in Alabama this year. The recipients, as pulled from, are here:

Contributor Amount ContributionDate RecipientName

STUDENTSFIRST $15,000.00 05/23/2014 BARRY RAMON SADLER SR. (Sadler outspent incumbent state school board member Betty Peters10-1, and he lost.)

STUDENTS FIRST $20,000.00 11/15/2013 CHARLOTTE BORDEN MEADOWS (Meadows ran for a house seat. She lost.)

STUDENTS FIRST $15,000.00 05/21/2014 CYNTHIA MCCARTY (McCarty ran for open seat on state school board. She won.)

STUDENTSFIRST $10,000.00 06/02/2014 GERALD DIAL (Dial is incumbent state senator. He won primary, faces opposition in November.)

STUDENTSFIRST $10,000.00 05/09/2014 JIM H MCCLENDON (incumbent house member who challenged incumbent Republican state senator and won.)

STUDENTS FIRST $15,000.00 06/01/2014 MARY SCOTT HUNTER (Incumbent state school board member. She won.)

STUDENTSFIRST $5,000.00 04/24/2014 MICHAEL G. HUBBARD (Speaker of the House. He spent more than $1 million on his re-election in june and beat a Republican primary challenger. Faces Democratic opponent in November. Not a friend of public schools or teachers.)

STUDENTSFIRST $5,000.00 05/22/2014 PATRICK SELLERS (aDemocrat who challenged aDemocratic incumbent in Birmingham and lost.)

STUDENTS FIRST $5,000.00 10/11/2013 ROBERT BENTLEY (Incumbent Governor running for re-election. Returned the money.)

STUDENTSFIRST $10,000.00 05/21/2014 STEVE DEAN (Republican challenger to Republican incumbent. Dean lost.)

STUDENTS FIRST $2,500.00 02/21/2013 STORMING THE STATE HOUSE POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEE (this PAC is operated by Mike hubbard, speaker of the house. Studentsfirst gave him money on feb. 21 of 2013, and the House passed the Alabama Accountability Act (Alabama’s voucher bill) on Feb. 28, 2013.)

STUDENTS FIRST $15,000.00 05/30/2014 WILLIAM E HENRY (an incumbent Republican who won his race.)

A circuit court judge in Alabama ruled that a law to give public dollars to private schools is unconstitutional.

“A program that pro-public education activists have called a throwback to the 1950s–a time when Alabama tried avoiding integration by directing public school funds to private schools–has been ruled unconstitutional by a Montgomery County circuit court judge.

“The Alabama Accountability Act of 2013 targeted students attending public schools that the state deemed “failing.” Instead of providing real solutions to help all students gain access to a quality public education, the Accountability Act starved public schools of critical funding.

“The law created a tax-credit program that used public dollars to reimburse the cost of tuition to those parents who pulled their children out of public schools and enrolled them in private or religious schools. Tax credits were also given to companies and individuals who gave money to certain organizations to fund scholarships for low-income students to attend private schools.
The program cost taxpayers $40 million during the 2013-14 fiscal year, yet, studies show that voucher and tuition tax-credit schemes don’t result in a better education for students.”

The law was challenged by the Alabama Education Association. It is sure to be appealed.

Jaisal Noor and Nikole Hannah-Jones report on the alarming return of segregation in the schools of the south. Hannah-Jones describes a high school in Tuscaloosa that was successfully desegregated but then resegregated as the result of political decisions intended to attract white students by isolating black students. For many black students in Alabama, it is as though the Brown decision never happened. As they note, New York State now has the most segregated schools in the nation, and segregation is deeply entrenched in New York City, especially in its charter schools.

Has the Brown decision been completely forgotten?


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