School flexibility bill gives little flexibility

Published 8:23pm Monday, February 11, 2013

I think we can all agree that public education is one of the most important services our state and local governments provide. We can also agree that there is too much bureaucracy jargon, forms, waivers, hierarchies, as well as state and federal directives that get in the way of educating our children. We all want to remove the red tape so that teachers and students will have minimal interference with the process of learning. For Republicans in Montgomery, the signature piece of legislation they believe will cut the red tape is a bill they call, “School Flexibility Act.”

This bill would allow local school systems to seek a waiver that would approve of them opting out of virtually any state law, statute, or regulation. Their argument is that teachers and local school boards know how to manage their classrooms and educate our children better than the legislature and state school board. I unreservedly agree that our teachers and local school systems have a better understanding of the circumstances that encourage and promote learning as opposed to the state school board and legislature. I am all for giving teachers more flexibility to be innovative in the classroom, explore new methods, and try new tools to improve our children’s education.

But I have several concerns about the current version of the school flexibility bill, and unless these issues are addressed, I cannot justify voting for the bill.  First, as it is currently written, the school flexibility bill would allow school systems to seek a waiver which would no longer require them to meet any state-mandated academic performance standards, meaning we would have no idea what kind of quality of education our children would receive. When it comes to education, there must be standards. We cannot afford to send our children into the world or off to college ill prepared. We must raise the standards instead of lowering them.

Secondly, as currently written, this bill would also allow local school systems to seek waivers for teaching standards and requirements. Among other concerns, this would allow a school system to opt out of requiring teachers to be licensed educators.  Supporters of the bill say school systems should hire individuals skilled in trades to teach technical classes like shop and welding.  However, what they fail to see is that just because that individual is knowledgeable concerning a particular skill or subject does not mean that they can effectively teach the skill or subject. If you don’t believe me, ask Alabama fans if they want Mike Shula back as head coach. Shula was a good SEC quarterback, but his skills as a quarterback did not transfer to coaching.

Thirdly, aside from the adverse effect on our children’s education, the school flexibility bill also hurts our educators. Under the Senate version of the bill, there are no protections in place to prevent a school system from opting out of the pay scale established by the state. Local school boards could freeze teachers’ pay and even opt out of giving raises based on merit, experience, or academic advancement. Just let that sink in for a minute. Will paying teachers even less produce the desired results for our children? If you think that is scary, think about the fact that one Senator stated that it is not Biblical to pay teachers well. This would also discourage brilliant, bright, and talented students from becoming teachers in our state and that hurts our children.

Lastly, the school flexibility bill does not put into place any oversight or protections to prevent corruption. Without oversight, school systems could contract out services like providing lunch or bus drivers to companies that cost more and do not meet our standards. Without oversight, these contracts could go to companies that would financially benefit elected officials or school board members.

So while I am all for giving teachers more freedom to be innovative in the classroom, that is not what the school flexibility bill really does. And until these concerns and many others have been addressed, I cannot support this bill as currently written.

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