- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 2, 2017

DECATUR, Ala. (AP) - Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

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July 24

The Decatur Daily on local politicians successfully pushing through a bill requiring insurance coverage of expensive therapy for autistic children:

Despite its protestations to the contrary, it appears the Business Council of Alabama has blackballed several lawmakers from next month’s summer conference. The common denominator of those left off this year’s invitation list, according to the legislators, is they all fought successfully to push through a bill requiring insurance coverage of expensive therapy for autistic children.

Another common denominator is that none of the lawmakers appeared to regret taking a stand, even one that was an affront to political and financial giant Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama.

The reason for this backbone from politicians who depend on corporate contributions and generally tout their pro-business credentials is not mysterious. They were bombarded, both in Montgomery and in their districts, by human beings willing to tell their stories. They were face to face with children who had benefited from intensive autism therapy, and by distraught parents who could not afford to continue it.

The parents and children managed to break through the harsh logic of free enterprise and tap into the humanity of their elected representatives.

One local lawmaker, Rep. Bill Holtzclaw, put his reaction to being spurned by BCA succinctly: “I support the people who sent me to Montgomery, not the people in Montgomery.”

The opposition to the autism bill was rational, if cold. The behavioral analysis therapy covered by the law is expensive, up to $100 per hour over long periods of time. Requiring insurance to cover it merely shifts that cost from the family to other insured people and their employers. Requiring Medicaid and All-Kids to cover the therapy shifts the cost to taxpayers.

If this sounds familiar, it should. A national battle over the same issue is raging, although it’s not limited to autism. The cuts to Medicaid and repeal of the Affordable Care Act being pushed by many in Congress also pit financial realities against empathy. When Americans see individuals suffering, they want to help. When they can insulate themselves from those individuals - viewing them as statistics, not neighbors - then the logic of economic conservatism is easy. Knowing that legislation will leave 32 million without access to health care is easy; knowing that it will leave a neighbor in pain changes the equation.

We cannot manage our government, state or federal, based solely on empathy. Nor can we manage it without empathy. We need balance. We need an awareness that real people lurk behind Congressional Budget Office calculations.

The Alabama lawmakers who pushed for expanded insurance coverage of autism saw the people who were hurting and recognized the need for balance. They had the courage to confront powerful business interests and proclaim that people matter, too. Lawmakers in Washington also must recognize the need to balance economics and empathy, to find the courage to show compassion.

Online: https://www.decaturdaily.com/

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July 28

Montgomery Advertiser on state education Superintendent Michael Sentance:

Nick Saban in his first year at Alabama went 7-6, and it included a loss to Louisiana-Monroe.

No, not LSU (although Alabama did lose to the Tigers as well in 2007). The Warhawks of Louisiana-Monroe. Also, not a single player was drafted from Alabama in the subsequent NFL draft.

That kind of suffering for Alabama fans seems unfathomable, given the Crimson Tide’s recent dominance, Saban’s now 114-19 record at Alabama and 22 first-round draft picks since 2009.

This seems to have nothing to do with the State Department of Education, but let us explain.

When State Superintendent Michael Sentance was hired in August, board member Mary Scott Hunter after the vote said “We want the Nick Saban of education.”

Clearly, Sentance is no Saban. To even suggest it is ludicrous. Honestly, few leaders are. Saban’s discipline, commitment to a system and care for minutiae and the big picture are rarely matched.

Even Nick Saban in 2007 wasn’t performing like Nick Saban. He had some things he needed to improve and work through as a leader and with the team.

The State Board of Education gave a highly unfavorable review of Sentance in the past week. Since he started just 11 months ago he has been sitting in a hotter spot than a driver’s seat of a car baking in the August Alabama sun all afternoon. When he was selected out of Massachusetts, an online petition had 4,000 signatures supporting rescinding the offer just a few weeks after it was given.

At the time, Sentance told the Montgomery Advertiser, “It’s going to take the trust and faith of educators to work with me. That’s something I have to earn, and I understand that.”

He hasn’t earned much, if any, in his first year, and he is in part responsible.

Sentance is from out of state and doesn’t have the expected background of a state superintendent. He hasn’t been a principal or a teacher or a superintendent of a local district, a worthy concern given the he needs to relate to teachers, principals and local school leaders.

But the lack of classroom experience and not being from here aren’t the issues. It’s his communication and rapport. Sentance is knowledgeable and intelligent, but that can take a leader so far. His relationship building - important to all leaders and vital in Alabama politics - has been underwhelming. His outreach has been limited and therefore he hasn’t inspired change. He has inspired judgment.

Giving Sentance a review after a year makes sense. Any employee wants to know how they are doing. But potentially getting rid of him so quickly is perplexing.

The State Department of Education and its board have issues with its hiring process if they are already prepared to oust their leadership choice. While they are analyzing his faults and questioning Sentance’s weaknesses, which are concerning, they also need to look at themselves and ask what they can do to improve.

While Sentance’s Alabama career hangs in the balance for the next several months, so too does the outlook of the state’s intervention into Montgomery’s underperforming school district. Sentance was at the forefront of building a team and a plan to improve the state capital’s public schools.

This should be concerning to everyone living in our city. It was nearly unanimous that something needed to be done with Montgomery’s schools, given their failing assessment scores, discipline issues and financial instability. The state Department of Education actually committed to the process when others shied away.

With a shakeup in state education leadership, we fear how the intervention could fall apart before it even starts.

Online: https://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/

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July 28

Times Daily of Florence on the State Board of Education’s recent struggles:

Forget about the low evaluation scores the state school board gave this week to the superintendent it hired in August 2016. Forget about the State Department of Education’s release of incorrect graduation rates earlier this year. Forget about board infighting over a report that said board and department members were part of a scheme to discredit a superintendent candidate a year ago.

All of those things only suggest the Alabama State Board of Education is inept. It offered solid, visible evidence of its collective incompetence Tuesday when it released the form it used to evaluate the state superintendent. The content of the form was sloppy and embarrassing.

. The 20th word on the form, “responsibilities,” was misspelled.

. Lower on its first page, the evaluation form repeated wording with the phrase “significant events event in their respective school districts.”

. Throughout the form, there were more subtle signs of sloppiness. The verbs switched from singular to plural forms. One phrase, for instance, rated whether the superintendent “develop and implements a state-wide plan for community relations.”

The State Board of Education wasn’t pressed by a 24-hour news writing cycle when it developed an evaluation form for its top official. The form should not look as if it was hastily written and poorly proofread. As a public document, it will be posted on websites and viewed by people in other states, helping perpetuate a poor image of Alabama education.

For those who’ve followed the chaos of the state school board carefully, the form is an alarming sign that the board’s infighting and incompetence may have rendered it counterproductive to quality education in the state.

The decision to evaluate Superintendent Michael Sentance now rather than closer to the Dec. 31 deadline appeared to have an ulterior motive as a possible first step to get rid of him. It seemed likely there was a hidden agenda once the evaluation was released and showed more than half of Sentance’s average scores were 1.53 or lower on the evaluation’s 1- to 3-point scale.

There are two big problems with the state school board becoming more about behind-the-scenes maneuvering than its mission.

First, several members of the Legislature have expressed the urge to meddle even more deeply in state education and reduce the power of the elected board. Recent chaos on the board only gives those lawmakers a wider opening to become more active in their oversight and make state education policy even messier.

Second, the school board is wasting time it doesn’t have to improve education. Alabama students’ test scores consistently rank below national averages. It is imperative that the board cease unproductive activities and focus on its mission.

These actions need to be addressed immediately.

. Stephanie Bell should turn over her role as board vice president to another board member to restore confidence in the board’s actions. The vice president essentially runs the board because the governor is board president and busy with other duties.

. Board members should meet in public with Sentance and decide whether they can support him for at least two more years to give the State Department of Education consistency. If there is significant opposition to him continuing long term, he should resign or be ousted.

. The board should set a deadline for receiving a rough draft of the plan for replacing ACT Aspire as state schools’ primary test. Then there needs to be a commitment to using the same test for an extended period. School systems are expected to use a different test in 2018 than ACT Aspire, which had been used since only 2014. When tests change, school officials can’t accurately compare data to see if students are making progress.

The state school board deserves an F for its bungling so far in 2017. State students need it to make an A.

Online: https://www.timesdaily.com/


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