- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:


Sept. 20

The Dothan (Alabama) Eagle on state’s budgeting process:

One measure of the effectiveness of Alabama lawmakers is that local school officials are celebrating a state budget that won’t put them in more of a financial bind for the next 12 months. That measure comes up embarrassingly short.

After failing in two sessions to come up with ways to increase revenue to fill a shortfall that’s grown year after year, Alabama legislators resorted to its tried-and-true robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul approach to fiscal management, and closed its third session with a budget after looting the education fund for some $80 million. Lawmakers threatened to take $200 million, which makes education officials thankful that it’s only $80 million - at least for this year.

That’s not a solution. That’s procrastination. Or, to use a Goat Hill adage, they kicked the can down the road.

That means in February, they’ll be back to face the same old problem.

As the late New York Yankee Yogi Berra would say, it’ll be déjà vu all over again. Except in 2016, lawmakers will be more interested in their own re-election campaigns than reforming the state’s budgeting process.




Sept. 18

Decatur (Alabama) Daily on school choice in state:

School choice in Alabama, pushed forward with the Alabama Accountability Act and charter schools, has an obvious problem. Every dime that goes to private schools and to charter schools comes from the Education Trust Fund. Consequently, private and charter schools improve at the expense of public schools.

Less obvious and possibly more damaging to Alabama are the political ramifications of school choice.

The last time school choice was a significant factor in Alabama K-12 education was after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered desegregation of schools. Outside that disturbing time of “white flight,” Alabama voters have been on the same page when it came to improving public schools. Except for a tiny percentage of families who had access to, and could afford, private or parochial schools, every parent, prospective parent and grandparent wanted the best public schools possible.

This universal desire for improved public education especially was important in Alabama, where wealth and political clout go hand in hand. Partly because of pernicious reasons having to do with the role of money in politics, partly because low-income families are less likely to vote and partly because families mired in poverty have little tangible evidence of the value of a good education, middle- and upper-income families have been an important part of Alabama’s drive to increase the quality of public education.

Listen to complaints from the current Legislature about General Fund revenue, and the importance of this push becomes obvious. The state constitution, archaic and punitive to the poor, still was more generous in earmarking tax revenues for education than for other governmental operations. Even the power brokers who created a 1901 Constitution protective of wealthy landowners recognized the importance of public schools.

The main reason for this consensus - that public schools were a high priority, and maybe the highest priority, for the state - had much to do with their universality. The politically active and the wealthy had a vested interest in public school excellence. They either had children in public schools, or had family and friends who depended on public schools for their children’s success.

On the micro level, school choice is a positive. Some public schools are lousy. Some are dangerous. The ability to escape such schools is a positive for individual families and their children.

But that escape valve, valuable for an individual family, can be devastating for the school and for the other students who attend it. A family that can easily leave a school has no incentive to push for reform. Parents who otherwise would be demanding improvements - removal of deficient teachers, better programming and facilities, up-to-date textbooks - can instead abort.

School choice, which can be beneficial on the micro level, has devastating potential on the macro level.

No matter how much taxpayer money is funneled to private and charter schools, most Alabama children will continue to rely on public schools for their education and for their future prospects. As the Legislature tinkers with the education system, it needs to make sure all Alabamians remain invested in public schools.

When it becomes easier to leave a school than to improve it, Alabama’s best hope for the future will suffer.




Sept. 19

The Gadsden (Alabama) Times on governor’s record about transparency:

The answer to this question is pretty consistent anywhere you look online: What justification is there for sealing a couple’s divorce records?

Well, there’s protecting the identity of children and the safety of domestic violence victims, and protecting proprietary business information. That’s about it.

None of that is in play in the divorce proceedings between Gov. Robert Bentley and his wife, Dianne, although that isn’t the main reason The Times has joined other media outlets across Alabama in filing a motion in circuit court in Tuscaloosa County to unseal those records. It’s more about government transparency.

Dianne Bentley filed for divorce Aug. 28, citing an “irretrievable breakdown” in their 50-year marriage. The motion was initially made public and was posted to our website.

However, three days later a Tuscaloosa County judge granted a joint motion by the Bentleys’ attorneys to seal the records, which were removed from the AlaCourt court document retrieval system. We believe that resulted from a hearing that neither the public nor the news media was told about, which prevented any dissenting voices or challenges.

We believe that is in violation of state law that ensures open courts and guarantees Alabamians the right to inspect and copy public records. There is no general exemption, statutorily or by court decision, for divorce records, either for regular folks or people holding “prominent offices,” as the motion to seal the records described the governor.

We’re aware of stories floating around in social media and touched upon by conventional media about Gov. Bentley’s personal life. Salacious rumors are not what attracted the attention of the members of the Fourth Estate who have come together to file suit. The lack of transparency and the surreptitious nature of the records being sealed lead us to believe something more than dirty laundry could be tucked away. And the fact the judge who sealed then is a Bentley appointee does not make this any better.

Elected officials do not enjoy any greater right to privacy than anyone else; indeed, they should expect to have less.

There may be nothing in the records except a sad tale of two people who have grown apart after a half-century together, an unfortunate situation indeed.

Alabamians have the right to know for sure, and the media seeking access are their eyes.



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