Governor Bentley Wants Unified Education, General Fund Budget

Governor Robert Bentley has said he plans to ask the Legislature to pass a constitutional amendment combining the state’s two budgets and allowing some money now allocated for education to be spent on state agencies. Bentley said Alabama should have a unified budget like 47 other states, but not all of the tax revenue set aside for education must be made available for other uses.

House and Senate leaders say they agree with the governor and that more flexibility is needed in the budget process. They also agree that ample revenue for education must be maintained. The new head of the Alabama Education Association, Dr. Henry Mabry, said there is no way the governor can keep his promises to the schoolchildren if he goes ahead with his plan. According to Mabry, the governor’s plan will result in fewer teachers, large class sizes and possibly a shorter school year. The teachers’ lobby has traditionally opposed any plans to repeal laws setting aside taxes for education. Should the Legislature approve the governor’s proposed constitutional amendment, it would have to be approved by the voters in a statewide referendum.

Children’s Advocacy Group Announces Goals

An advocacy group for Alabama’s children says sustaining the state’s pre-kindergarten program and legislation banning smoking in most public places are among its priorities in the upcoming Legislative session.

VOICES for Alabama Children recently told supporters that its priorities reflect the tough economic times. In addition to sustaining the progress achieved in the pre-K program, VOICES hopes that legislators will likewise sustain the progress in educational programs such as math, science and reading. Other priorities include daycare subsidies for working mothers and children’s health insurance.

New School Chief Salary

The Alabama Board of Education voted to give the new state school superintendent a three-year contract for $198,000 per year. The board voted 6 to 1 to approve the contract for Dr. Tommy Bice.

His contract exceeds that of his predecessor by a mere $37 per year. Board members wasted little time on the salary but took time to debate whether Bice would be given a four-year contract. Dr. Bice said that he is pleased with the three-year deal and looks forward to addressing the challenges facing education in the state. Bice is regarded in state education circles as an “innovator” and “motivator.”

Inmate Labor to Replace Immigrant Workers?

Alabama agriculture officials are considering whether prisoners can fill a labor shortage that the agency blames on the new state law against illegal immigration. The Department of Agriculture and Industries is meeting with south Alabama farmers to look at whether work-release inmates could fill jobs once held by immigrants.

Growing season is coming up, and some farmers fear most of their workers are gone. The agriculture agency says the new law has caused a chronic labor shortage on Alabama farms. State prison officials say the system has about 2,000 work-release prisoners, most of whom already have jobs.

New AEA Leader: Private School Choice is Faith-Based

Published reports indicate that the new head of the teachers union sends his children to a private school in Montgomery for its religious education. Dr. Henry Mabry says that contrary to some news reports, he sees no problem with choices he made regarding the education of his children.

The Alabama Education Association bills itself as the voice of public school teachers and employees. Mabry said the decision to send his children to Holy Cross Episcopal School is a personal faith matter. He said they are able to attend chapel, which is not available in public schools.

Governor Reassures Foreign Industries

Governor Robert Bentley recently voiced concerns about the state’s tough crackdown on illegal immigration law possibly hurting the recruitment of foreign industries and is has been reaching out to foreign executives to let them know the state welcomes them.

The state’s immigration law is regarded as the toughest in the country. The federal courts have put parts of the law on hold, but other provisions are in effect. Concerns with the law surfaced when a German manager with Mercedes-Benz was arrested in Tuscaloosa for not having a driver’s license with him while driving a rental car. Within a week of this episode, a Honda employee from Japan was stopped under similar circumstances near Talladega. Both matters were resolved within hours, but state leaders want to readily assure businesses that Alabama is open for business both foreign and domestic.

Solutions to Prison Overcrowding

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange says the state’s prisons are overcrowded, and officials may have to find ways to release prisoners who are not likely to commit violent crimes. Strange made the remarks in Washington during a meeting of the federalist Society, a conservative think tank.

A report in the Birmingham News said that Strange said releasing some prisoners could take the pressure off cash-strapped budgets, especially with a prison population that is about 195 percent of the designed capacity.

Alabama Lt. Governor Leads Trade Mission

Alabama Lt. Governor Kay Ivey is leading a delegation from six Southern states to Taipei, Taiwan, on a cultural and trade mission. Ivey and state Senator Bill Holtzclaw of Madison will represent Alabama on the mission.

A spokesperson for Ivey said the trip is being paid for by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office and was approved by the Alabama Ethics Commission. Ivey is slated to be the keynote speaker at a luncheon during the mission. She said she would discuss the importance of the trade relationship between Taiwan and the six Southern states in the delegation. Other states sending representatives include North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Georgia.

 

New Alabama School Superintendent Named

Longtime school administrator Dr. Tommy Bice was selected by the state school board as the new superintendent of education in Alabama. Bice, who had served as deputy superintendent for instruction will succeed Dr. Joe Morton, who retired in August of this year.

The former principal and school superintendent in Alexander City expressed his appreciation to the board for their confidence and committed to continue the work of Morton to create “world-class schools” in Alabama. Bice said his first priority is to meet with Craig Pouncey, who is Deputy Superintendent for Finance and was a candidate for the superintendent position, to begin preparation for the 2012 session of the Alabama Legislature.

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