- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:


Oct. 9

Decatur Daily on repealing the Accountability Act

According to the lawmakers who passed it in 2013, the purpose of the Alabama Accountability Act was to allow students in failing schools the ability to escape them. It has largely failed in that purpose.

The law’s failure is in part a function of the way in which it was passed. In 2013, GOP lawmakers negotiated with education officials over the details of a bill that gave local school districts more flexibility from state requirements long after they knew they would never vote on the bill. As planned, they replaced the flexibility bill with one three times as long and with a new name. The law passed over the belated and unanimous objections of educators.

Despite those objections, lawmakers persisted in their claims the law world serve a valuable function. State Rep. Terri Collins used the same talking points as her colleagues in an op-ed printed in these pages on March 20, 2013. “For parents and children trapped in failing schools,” she wrote, “we simply can’t afford to keep doing nothing.” The law, she promised, would “give parents and children trapped in failing schools more choices to pursue a quality education.”

Collins no doubt was sincere in her expectations for the law, as were many lawmakers. Those expectations, however, have not been met.

Thousands of children are using the Accountability Act to attend private schools, with their tuition paid or subsidized with money that otherwise would be used to fund public schools. In addition to tax credits provided to families, the law creates a $30 million-per-year scholarship fund. Businesses and individuals who donate to the fund receive tax credits, again with money that otherwise would go to the state education budget.

Here’s the problem: In the past three years, only 39 students used the Accountability Act to withdraw from failing schools and attend private schools. And that was the purpose of the law, according to Collins and other lawmakers. Tens of millions of dollars are being drained annually from public schools, but the stated purpose of the law has been fulfilled for only 39 students.

The law has plenty of other problems, not the least of which is its effort to label a school as “failing” based solely on aggregate standardized test scores that correlate almost perfectly with the percentage of the students who live in poverty.

But lawmakers need not worry about these other problems. Accountability is not just appropriate for schools, it is appropriate for legislation. The Legislature passed an enormously expensive law that is failing in its central purpose. It should be repealed.




Oct. 9

The Dothan Eagle on Alabama prisons:

There’s an old chestnut about incompetent leadership that involves the infamous Roman emperor Nero and a fire that raged through Rome in 64 A.D. As the story goes, Nero fiddled while the empire burned. Since the precursor of the modern-day fiddle didn’t appear until the 10th Century or so, the adage may not be entirely accurate, but the lesson is the same - While his country suffered from tragedy, Nero was unconcerned, busying himself with frivolity.

That story came to mind last week with the news of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice into the conditions in Alabama prisons. There have been numerous incidents of violence and inmate uprising in the state’s correctional system, leading to the death of a corrections officer and stabbing of a warden.

The only thing surprising about this development is that it has taken this long for the federal government to step in. Alabama prisons have been overcrowded for years, and currently house 23,692 inmates, just a handful shy of double capacity.

Add to that a shortage of staff and chronic budget problems, and you not only have a real mess, but a situation that may well violate the constitutional rights of inmates.

Alabama lawmakers know all this, and have known about the situation with the state’s prisons. And while there have been some measures passed to address the challenges, the problems clearly have not been resolved.

Earlier this year, Gov. Robert Bentley floated a plan to replace existing prisons with super-prisons, new facilities with greater capacity. However, the total capacity for inmates wouldn’t be significantly larger, so the problems with overcrowding and staffing would remain, just in $800 million dollars’ worth of new buildings.

Gov. Bentley welcomes the DOJ investigation. “We both share a common goal,” he said.

The difference is that the state government has the responsibility of providing inmates and staff with a safe, secure and sanitary facility with adequate funding and staffing. And in Alabama, the government has failed in that charge consistently over many years.

Now it will likely have the opportunity to do what it should have done years ago, only it will do so under the yoke of an inevitable federal mandate, and will have spent untold amounts of taxpayer funds in legal fees in the process.

That’s some costly fiddling.




Oct. 6

The Gadsden Times on the Alabama Advisory Council on Gaming:

Gov. Robert Bentley has, during his tenure, been big on launching commissions or panels to ponder and make recommendations on various issues.

This week he announced another one - the Alabama Advisory Council on Gaming. It will have seven members and a specific mission: To study state and local gambling laws elsewhere, and report back to Bentley and legislative leaders on potential changes that need to be made in the laws here.

Our response can be plotted somewhere between “uh, OK” and “meh,” because we don’t see where this will do anything to solve what the governor calls “a difficult issue … a difficult problem.”

We imagine Bentley sees things that way because his proposed state lottery to raise revenue for Alabama’s ailing General Fund died in the special legislative session he called to consider it.

Plus gambling remains in the news with the reopening last month of Milton McGregor’s VictoryLand casino in Shorter and the White Hall and Southern Star casinos in Lowndes County, where patrons are playing electronic bingo.

Bentley said he is seeking “a fresh perspective” and “concrete recommendations” from his council.

Well, we don’t have a spot on that septet, and our perspective may not be that fresh, but we can offer a pretty solid assessment of the situation.

We’ve consistently advocated allowing Alabamians to revisit whether there should be a state lottery, but given the opposition from so many different sides - those who think a lottery should benefit education instead of the General Fund; social conservatives and moralists who see gambling as an Autobahn to Sodom and Gomorrah; Native American casinos looking out for No. 1 - the chances of that happening are slim no matter what Bentley’s group recommends.

As for the reopened casinos, Bentley and Attorney General Luther Strange were on solid legal ground with a letter to the sheriffs and district attorneys in those areas insisting the facilities are violating state law. The state Supreme Court two years ago ruled, unanimously, that electronic bingo isn’t legal in Alabama, and reiterated that opinion earlier this year.

However, Bentley said he’s not planning to take the Bob Riley route and raid those sites, and he and Strange called on local officials to enforce the law and shut them down. Given the economic impact of gambling to those poor areas, there’s virtually no chance of that happening.

So we wonder, again, what Bentley is looking for from his council. Cover? Justification? A kick in the pants? A recommendation that casino gambling be legalized in Alabama, which would face the same legislative minefield as a lottery?

Or does the governor simply want to be seen as engaged and doing something after a hellish year on the political and personal fronts, as a House committee considers whether he should be impeached and tossed out of office?

Those questions can only be answered by the gambling panel, and perhaps its recommendations will be solid and useful.

Excuse us if we don’t like the odds.



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