Common Core Update: I’ve not updated the blog for a few days, primarily in order to keep my most recent blog posting – The Common Core Bogeyman – in the forefront. I know this has been a divided issue across the state and I appreciate the open debate. My position remains – this is a 10th amendment, state sovereignty issue and I’ve been clear in my goal that the state board of education shall never give up control of Alabama’s educational standards, must protect student data and restrict usage to educational purposes only, and required the State Board of Education to hold public hearings in each State School Board District.

Proposed legislation however went a step further – repealing and defunding any progress made to this point. I opposed that position but was unsuccessful in amending the proposed bill in a committee meeting last week, losing the vote to delete the repeal/defund provision in a 5-4-1 vote (yes, another vote to abstain...I’m always lost when someone votes “maybe” on a bill. I didn’t come here to vote “maybe” – I was sent here to vote “yes” or “no”!)  The Common Core repeal bill was then voted out of committee in a controversial voice vote reported here.

Proponents of the repeal had hoped it would be picked up by the full Senate this week. After discussions over the weekend, continuing into mid-day today, the Pro Tem of the Senate determined that the bill lacked overall support in the Senate and determined that the full Senate would not debate the bill further. Make no mistake, we will see legislation regarding the repeal and defunding of Common Core again and I predict it will be a campaign issue in upcoming elections. I truly appreciate everyone – parents, teachers, administrators, businesses and so many others that contacted me and expressed support for my position.
Busy Weekend – On Friday morning I spoke with members of the Pachyderm Club in Huntsville. I enjoyed visiting with this group and the opportunity to answer their questions regarding the Common Core Standards. On Saturday I joined members of Vets with Vettes and Corvette Owners for our annual Cars and Camouflage Charity Car Show. This year’s event was held at Joe Davis Stadium with over 400 cars present. It was a fun but long day; the continued volunteer effort and public support for this show is amazing, allowing the club to support several local charities.  On Monday I spoke at the Madison Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon concerning the impact of education to our state’s economic development and encouraging the business community to become involved in the political process beyond legislation effecting businesses. It was great visiting with everyone – I’m told over 80 people were in attendance – and am truly thankful for everyone adjusting the normally scheduled luncheon to accommodate my legislative schedule.  Of note, on Friday morning of this week I will participate in a “Brown Bag Lunch Forum” hosted by the Madison PTA Council along with Madison City Superintendent Dee Fowler at the Madison City Schools Central office concerning the Alabama Accountability Act.

I left Madison at 7 AM this morning, headed to Montgomery for the week. I started the day visiting with 12 students from the Bob Jones High School Young Politicians Club. I enjoyed visiting with these young adults; we toured the Senate Chamber and I was able to share some of my life's experiences with them. The remainder of the morning and early afternoon was filled with meetings concerning pending legislation. I attended the Banking and Insurance Committee meeting where we debated several bills followed by a brief Caucus lunch. The Senate went into session at 1PM and once again took up the Sunset Bills discussed in previous blog posts. After passing a couple of these bills the Senate moved on to other bills. 

The Senate passed SB303 – expanding the board Teachers Retirement System (TRS) Board. This was a controversial bill from the start when the original bill was voted out of committee in March. The concerns are that participants from higher education, representing over 25% of the membership, but have not had representation on the board since changes were made to the TRS Board make-up in 1980. The teachers, support staff, principals and superintendents are all represented on the board.   The original bill, as voted out of committee last month, added two members from higher education and removed the AEA Executive Director representation. The bill was amended on the Senate floor today, leaving the AEA Executive Director on the board but adding two members for higher education.

Other concerns with the TRS Board include preventing some shenanigans that happened when electing new members just this year.  I wasn't fully aware of the internal power struggle with the board but under current rules, one organization distributes, collects and counts the ballots - the AEA. Several requests have been made that an outside, third party be charged with performing these duties. Lastly, the bill changes voting for membership so that principals across the state vote for principals, support staff vote for support staff, teachers vote for teachers, etc. The bill now goest to the House for debate.

After a lengthy debate – over five hours – the Senate passed SB231, the Gulf State Park bill. Essentially this bill allocates anticipated funding paid by BP from the BP oil spill settlement to build a convention center, hotel and restaurants at the Gulf State Park. I do not oppose building a convention center but do not support the state building/operating a hotel and restaurants. I offered an amendment to that end, allowing the building of a convention center only. My thoughts are that the convention center will drive an up-tic in local hotels and restaurants that are currently operating. This up-tic is the only true indication of the free market at work and will then be the driving force for increased economic development activity. The amendment failed and I voted against final passage as I oppose public funding (event if derived from the oil spill settlement) being used to interfere with the private businesses and the free market. This bill now goest to the House for debate.

The Senate then passed SB7 – a bill preventing the use of public funds, aka Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)...or welfare, for the purchase of alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, lottery tickets, adult-oriented entertainment, etc. Of course the Democrats rallied against this bill for a variety of reasons...all lost on me.   Public benefit funds should only be used for the benefit of truly needy families and their children.

The next bill taken up was SB414. This is the “Double Dipping” Bill. One of the first actions of the newly elected Republican majority in 2010 was to prevent those serving in the Alabama Legislature from working for the state. There are several issues here – most notable being influencing and voting on budgets for departments where a member works.
Several members are affected by this law as detailed in this report. The procedural vote (BIR) allowing for debate on this bill passed in a 16 – 10 – 1 with several members not voting. I voted against the BIR and against the bill for final passage. If readers recall, I had to make a decision in late 2009, prior to announcing as a candidate for office whether or not I wanted to keep working as a government employee at NASA or serve in the Alabama Legislature. A federal law, the Hatch Act, prevented me from doing both...I had to make a decision and I know I made the right one. Final passage of the bill allowing those currently in the legislature to work for the state failed in an 11-18-2 vote.

It was a long night and the Senate adjourned just before mid-night...and then reconvened at 5 minutes after mid-night to take up the two bills that we ran out of time on the previous day. I’ll blog on those bills tomorrow... 

I have two committee meetings tomorrow - the Education Policy Committee and Children and Youth Affairs. Of note, changes to the Alabama Accountability Act are on the Ed Policy Committee meeting – just in time for the Friday PTA meeting!

We all have a Bogeyman. Generally our Bogeyman lives in the shadows of our minds and vanishes in the light of day.  If enough of us believe in the same Bogeyman, he gets bigger, stronger and even more real.

Common Core – a set of national education standards adopted by over 45 States and embraced by business, industry and education leaders – has a Bogeyman.  The Bogeyman that haunts the Common Core is that our children will be brainwashed through public education and turned into mindless beings that support a Washington DC based leftist agenda, ultimately destroying our conservative principals and thereby the conservative base. It is too early to tell if the Common Core Bogeyman is real or not in Alabama, but the light of day causing the Bogeyman to vanish is state maintained control over educational standards.

Common Core Standards represent a minimum standard so that a child in a grade in one state is taught the same level of math as a child in any other state. The importance of this minimum standard to education, business and industry is to ensure a globally competitive, college and career ready work force – needed for a vibrant, recovering US economy.

Several bills have been introduced during the 2013 legislative session relating to Alabama’s adoption of the Common Core Standards. I’ve introduced and I support legislation that accomplishes the following:  prevents the State Board of Education from relinquishing control of our education standards to an entity outside of the state (i.e. the federal government), fully protects the privacy of student data for educational purposes, and requires the State Board of Education to hold public hearings in each State School Board District for future changes to curriculum.

Legislation has also been introduced going one step further; repealing and defunding Alabama’s adoption of the Common Core Standards. Just last week the Republican National Committee (RNC) passed a resolution supporting the repeal of the numerous federal regulations, which interfere with State and local control of public schools, and also supporting the rejection of the Common Core Standards plan “which creates and fits the country with a nationwide straitjacket on academic freedom and achievement.”  

I agree in part with the RNC; it is paramount that Alabama maintains state sovereignty over our educational standards and that local boards of education remain empowered to develop curriculum.  However, I fail to see the “nationwide straitjacket on academic freedom and achievement” if the states and local schools maintain control over their standards.

As the Common Core plan is a minimum standard; it gives students an equal starting point and allows our local and State Boards of Education a foundation to build upon. It allows our children in Alabama to equally compete for college admission slots as children from other states. Likewise, if a family relocates, it ensures children are on the same level as their peers in their new classroom. At the same time, Common Core establishes a base of information students need to master before moving to the next grade level –this doesn’t mean that the base is all we can teach. By maintaining state and local control over our standards we can use this base as simply that –as a base—and then build on that base, challenging our children further. I don’t believe the Common Core Bogeyman when he says these standards are limiting or corrupting; I see the Common Core coupled with Alabama maintaining control of its education standards as providing our children with unlimited opportunities.

I don’t want the federal government telling us when and what to teach our children and I don’t want the Alabama legislature doing it either. The day may come when the Common Core Standards become the Bogeyman some fear. If so, we will raise the blinds and allow the light of day – through Alabama maintaining control over our educational standards –to cast out the shadows and mystery that is the Common Core Bogeyman. State and local control will ensure Alabama’s children are taught high standards for a globally competitive, college and career ready work force encompassing the conservative values we demand.

I typically don’t like surprises – getting them or giving them.  With that in mind, I’ll share insight from earlier this week: I had spoken with the sponsor of SB190; discussing his proposed amendments and informing him that I had prepared a substitute bill to introduce, depending upon how his bill was amended.  In fact, my intentions were well known by several parties, well ahead of this morning’s committee meeting.

A brief recap of today's meeting - the bill sponsor, and chair of the Education Policy Committee, brought SB190 up for consideration at the start of the meeting. He then offered an amendment addressing several areas, most notably the legislative oversight portion of the bill.  The amendments were accepted but prior to voting to move the bill out of committee I offered a substitute bill. The substitute was read at length (2 1/2 pages). The substitute addressed three key areas, one of which I previously blogged on at length - the State Board of Education cannot cede control of Alabama’s Education Standards to any entity outside of the state of Alabama. The second element reinforced that the State Board of Education must hold public meetings in each district prior to approving curriculum changes and that they must involve stakeholders to include teachers and parents in the process. The third element ensured data collected on students could only be used for legitimate educational purposes. Of note, the substitute bill was written entirely by me, and contained existed elements - to varying degrees - of the sponsor’s original bill.

The committee chair moved to table my substitute bill; the committee vote did not support his motion. He then moved to carry over SB190 indefinitely by voice vote. I voted to not carry the bill over as I believe we need to come to some conclusion on this issue.

The way ahead - I remind everyone that this debate didn't start this session with the filing of SB190. It started in November 2010 when the State Board of Education adopted the Common Core Standards via a resolution, against the wishes of then Governor Elect Bentley (elected in Nov 2010 but did not take office until Jan 2011).  I met with the bill sponsor and with groups opposing common core after today's committee meeting. In the committee meeting, after the substitute was carried over, I made comments referencing this to an intervention at a family reunion. We, the conservative family, need to work this out seeing this through to some conclusion. I feel that my substitute was the vehicle to do that – it was not THE answer but it was AN answer - and I am disappointed that by all indications the effort remains unresolved and as such, the family remains divided.

A note on co-sponsoring legislation - For what it is worth, when a sponsor requests that I co-sponsor their bill I follow a simple rule. I review the bill and determine if I can support the overarching goal of the bill. Next I determine the elements of the bill; how the sponsor proposes to accomplish the goal of the bill. In most cases this includes several elements. I will identify elements that I readily support, elements I have concerns with (read – needs more work) and elements I oppose. I then discuss these elements with the sponsor to determine their willingness to work with me on these concerns. Based on their response, I’m either in or out as a co-sponsor.

In other news today...the Alabama Supreme Court ruled against the activist judge who had inserted himself into the legislative process, blocking a bill from being transferred to the Governor for signature. I commend the Court on their ruling. The balance of power between the three branches of government is alive and well. I’m told Governor Bentley will make a determination tomorrow on signing the bill or returning it to the legislature with executive amendments.

I am scheduled to be on the Toni and Gary Show around 6:30 tomorrow morning. I have a Commerce, Transportation and Utilities committee meeting at 9:00 and the Senate goes into session at 9:30.

Semper Fi - Bill
I’ll focus today’s blog on two topics – SB190, the Common Core Bill, and SB129, the Omnibus Gun Bill.

SB190 – Common Core Standards Bill

A joint Senate and House Education Policy Committee Meeting met in Montgomery today for a public hearing on the Common Core Standards.  We heard from over 40 speakers, for and against the bill, over a 2 hour period.  I appreciate everyone coming to Montgomery to speak today, sharing their thoughts, concerns and personal experiences. 

I blogged extensively on the Common Core Standards earlier this week and recommend readers unfamiliar with the Common Core Standards review that blog.

While opinions varied widely between the opponents and proponents, one thing struck me the most. Opponents consistently referred to the standards as “Alabama College and Career Ready” while proponents consistently referred to the standards as “Common Core Standards”.  This validates what I tweeted during the meeting; “At Joint Senate & House Public Hearing on Common Core, I think we are all having the same conversation, just hearing it differently.”

We have some decisions to make and additional work to do here. I have some thoughts and am committed to working with everyone to craft a solution.  The State Board of Education meets tomorrow and that may bring further clarity.  I reiterate my closing points from my earlier blog on Common Core Standards - no one supports diminishing the rigors of education in Alabama - just the opposite, we need to continue to push the envelope.  However, there is a difference between a National Standard and a Federal Standard and I want to ensure we maintain that difference.

Update added 2/28 - Clarification: This was a joint committee hearing, as such no vote was taken on the bills.

SB129 - Omnibus Gun Bill

An update on SB129, the omnibus gun bill that I spoke on at Saturday’s 2nd Amendment event in Huntsville on Saturday. The bill was filed on Feb 5th and sent to the Business and Labor Committee. The committee subsequently assigned the bill to a sub-committee.  This can be interpreted two ways; bad – a nice way for committee members to say they don’t like your bill and the bill forever stays in the sub-committee, dying at the end of the session, or good; the sub-committee will actually bring key stake holders to the table and through collaborative efforts, a solution to most (...not all) concerns will be addressed and the bill will come out of the subcommittee for consideration by the full committee.  The latter is the case with SB129... sort of.

Over the past three weeks the Senate sponsor of SB129 has been working with a wide range of law enforcement and other stake holders.  The changes were so widespread that the sponsor decided to file another bill rather than amend SB120. The resulting bill – SB264 was filed late yesterday by the sponsor. After being briefed on the global changes throughout the bill, several of us signed on as co-sponsors. Today the electronic version became available on ALISON and we’ve discovered there are a few issues to include for some reason sections of the bill are repeated throughout the bill. I’ve been told yet another version will be filed tomorrow. For those that have reviewed SB264 and provided thoughts, please understand this bill will now go through the committee process and may see further amendments, starting as early as next week.

My concern with our existing state laws continue to be those expressed at the 2nd Amendment event – several areas of our current state law places law enforcement and law-abiding citizens in conflict unnecessarily – and I’m committed to correcting that whether through an omnibus bill or a section by section approach.

Semper Fi - Bill
Ready for the 5K and my view from the stage Saturday
Once again I’m a little behind on the blog update and have decided to provide a Monday update. I will return to Montgomery on Tuesday for what will prove to be a very busy week. Note to self - keep the blog updated!

Friday morning I joined Governor Bentley, Congressman Brooks, several area legislators, business and education leaders at the Charger 1 unveiling at UAH’s center on Redstone Arsenal. Later that afternoon I visited with the Board of Directors at the HEALS clinic at Madison Crossroads. These clinics provide medical and dental assistance to economically disadvantaged children, helping keep them happy and healthy. I’m excited about the expansion of the dental clinic at the Madison County site, and they shared plans for expansion of optometry clinic as well. This is a wonderful public/private partnership and I’m honored to support their mission with members of the Madison County Legislative Delegation.

On Saturday I ran my first 5k of the season - the Grissom JROTC 5K benefiting Wounded Warriors. Later that afternoon I participated in a Q&A session at a wonderful event with 1,700 fellow Patriots at the VBC supporting our 2nd Amendment Rights. A special thanks to the South Huntsville Civic Association for hosting the event and to all those that spoke and attended the event, making it a huge success!

I also want to thank everyone that has contacted me regarding the Common Core Standards. This has touched a wide range of people - for and against - and to some, the Common Core issue has suddenly sparked into a wildfire of sorts; in reality, this issue has been smoldering for some time.  I share some background and my thoughts below.

Background - In short, the Common Core Standards were established several years ago by a national consortium of state governors so that if a family moved from one state to another, their children would have the same basic education level in math and English by a certain grade level. Industry also recognized the importance of a common set of educational standards as it relates to college, career ready and work force development, and embraced the cause. Of note, I’ve personally experienced the inconsistencies of educational standards between states when transferring from California to Alabama while on active duty.

A National Standard or a Federal Standard - The caution over Common Core began to arise when the ideas of this national consortium of state governors caught the attention of the federal government and was further solidified in 2009 when President Obama’s federal educational grant program “Race to the Top” funding associated the standards to a ranking system for award of federal funding.  State applications were scored based on whether they have implemented certain educational policies and adopting elements of the Common Core Standards was worth over 12% of the possible 500 points available.  The President again mentioned Race to the Top and Common Core Standards as recent as his State of the Union earlier this month. 

Common Core in Alabama - the State Board of Education adopted the Common Core Standards via a resolution in November 2010; against the wishes of then Governor Elect Bentley (elected in Nov 2010 but did not take office until Jan 2011). The resolution adopted (bottom of page 1 – page 4 of meeting minutes) included language concerning keeping Alabama sovereign however, in Nov 2011 another resolution was introduced to repeal Alabama’s adoption (mid – page 7 of meeting minutes). This resolution failed in a 3 – 6  vote and a substitute resolution, reaffirming the standards and renaming them Alabama’s College and Career Ready Standards was introduced to continue with the implementation subsequently passed in a 6 – 3 vote.

My Concerns - SB190 has been introduced in the Alabama Legislature in 2013 to begin addressing various concerns with Common Core Standards. I will focus on my primary concern – that our state board of education forever maintains the right to determine Alabama’s education standard.  Key to my support is: This bill would prohibit the State Board of Education from entering into an agreement or joining a consortium that would cede any control to an entity outside the state (Page 1, Line 22).  The federal government has a defined role in education but the states must maintain control of the “what, how, when, etc.”. Obviously this has been a concern since the onset – note the sovereignty clause in the original resolution adopting Common Core back in 2010.

I and other legislators remain concerned with where we may be headed from a Federal perspective and SB190 is a starting point, encasing a wide range of concerns. We have some work to do and I am encouraged by the ongoing conversations, including many education stakeholders across our state. Remember, these concerns didn’t start with SB190, they have been smoldering for some time.

It is interesting to note that Alabama is not the only state backing away from the Common Core – Indiana repealed their participation in Common Core in 2013 with SB193. Other states, some involved in creating the Common Core Standards such as Virginia and Texas have not adopted the standards.

Yes, Alabama routinely ranks low in education when considered nationally – and I am committed to assist in every way possible to set Alabama on a long term course for success. However, we should remember the many successful models across our state that consistently achieve national rankings; for example, 13 Alabama High Schools ranked in the top 1000 nationally in the 2013 US News report. How is that possible? Partly due to a local desire to exceed the minimum standards set by the state. I'm glad local systems are able to do that.

I’ll be clear, no one supports diminishing the rigors of education in Alabama - just the opposite, we need to continue to push the envelope. It is ironic that some have implied education in Alabama will be set back should we repeal our association with Common Core Standards. Think about it, if the State Board of Education sets our standards in Alabama, how can repealing our association with the Common Core affect us at all?  There is a difference between a National Standard and a Federal Standard and I want to ensure we maintain that difference.

Semper Fi - Bill