I’ll get caught up with the blog going in reverse order. The Senate adjourned just after 7 PM today. We had a productive day, working through a long, wide ranging Special Order Calendar. The highlight of my day - today was NASA Day in Montgomery. I helped coordinate this event with Rep McCutcheon and others to showcase the Marshall Space Flight Center’s dedication to our country and state. I want to thank everyone that worked behind the scenes to pull this day off as it was an historic day.
I started my day at 7:30 AM calling in to The Dale Jackson Show to discuss the so-called Flexible School Calendar bill that we attempted to defeat in a 7 hour debate on Tuesday...still a bad bill and I hope the Governor will veto but admit it is a long shot. By 8 AM I was at the State House for the arrival of a Space Shuttle Main Engine from the Marshall Space Flight Center; a most impressive arrival, complete with police escort – lights and sirens – as they escorted the tractor trailer down Union Ave towing this incredible piece of hardware from Huntsville. Once the trailer was in place, positioned squarely in the middle of the street between the State House and the Capitol, we went inside to prepare for a Joint Session of the Alabama Legislature where the Center Director, Mr. Goldman delivered a speech and the Alabama Legislature presented MSFC with a Joint Resolution. The Director was joined by T. J. Creamer, an Astronaut that had lived on the International Space Station for 6 months. After many photo opportunities with members of the legislature, we went to a press conference attended by several local and state-wide television stations and print media.
The Senate went into session at 10:30 AM and so I had to leave the NASA event to go to the Senate Floor. We were able to pass a long list of local bills and then moved into a very wide-ranging Special Order Calendar. I was able to duck out of the Senate Chamber and join the MSFC Team in the Governor’s Office along with members of the Madison County Senate delegation for a brief meeting with the Governor. This was very productive and reinforced the relationships across the board. At lunch we were able to join a reception hosted by the Huntsville and Madison County Chamber of Commerce sponsored by industry partners from the Alabama Coalition for Space Exploration. Again I want to thank everyone for helping make NASA Day in Montgomery possible.
On Wednesday I started the day with committee meetings at 8:30 AM. I had a total of four committee meetings. We debated and passed several bills and as we are in the final days of the session, committee meetings often become more interesting. My last committee meeting ended at 11:30 and we immediately went into a caucus meeting for lunch.
A significant amount of deal-making has been going on in an attempt to come to an agreement on the Senate version of the Charter Schools and School Flexibility Act. This bill had caused quite the log jam and it was important to come to a decision as the days in this year’s session are running short. We debated and ultimately passed a Senate version of the Charter Schools and School Flexibility Act, known as the Education Options Act of2012, in a 23 – 12 vote along party lines. We now have a Senate version that has passed the body and a House version that has passed a committee…will we be able to come to an agreement between the two bills? You can read the Senate version here – it is on its way to the House Committee. I would post a House version but I suspect it will change on the floor as it has not passed the full House yet.
I have always been supportive of a limited application of Charter Schools in Alabama utilizing best practices from other states with strict oversight. 30+ states allow some form of Charter Schools – what’s holding us back from limited application? The Senate bill accomplishes that as it only allows charter schools to be implemented in Class 3 municipalities with oversight from the legislative delegation – it doesn’t get much tighter than that…in fact, it may be too tight as there are only four Class 3 municipalities in Alabama: Huntsville City, Birmingham City, Montgomery City and Mobile City. That’s what I call “limited application”.
However, key to my support for this bill is the flexibility option, allowing local boards to apply contractually with the State Board of Education for a waiver of certain state laws. In return, the school system agrees to maintain accountability measures that are monitored by the state. A key provision allows for exemption of teaching certificates for full-time teachers with an advanced degree in the curricular area in which they teach, such as aerospace, engineering, etc. This is 99% of a bill I’ve previously introduced, SB365, a standalone School Flexibility bill – sans a Charter application. My hope is that we are able to keep the Senate Charter/Flex bill intact but, should we deviate from the “Plan” upon contact with our opponent, we execute “Plan B” and pass SB365.