Where does the power of Alabama government reside?
The civics students will point to the enumerated powers of the 1901 state Constitution, the ones that call for three branches — legislative, executive and judicial — to govern Alabama.
The more practical might cite the governor’s veto pen or state Legislature’s power to make laws.
The idealists — and you could count us in that number — might say that it ultimately is within the hands of the voters who elect Alabama’s so-called leaders.
Yet, the realists — and we’re in that camp as well — know the real answer.
The power of Alabama government is in the thumb of Paul Hubbert, the head honcho of the Alabama Education Association.
When Mr. Hubbert’s thumb goes up, the legislators beholding to him and the AEA do their best to pass the bill before them.
When that thumb goes down, those same lawmakers make it their mission to pull the plug on the offending bill.
The latest example of AEA thumb-power came Wednesday when the House Education Appropriations Committee voted to shelve a bill that would have allowed the creation of charter schools in Alabama.
What are charter schools? They are an experiment in schooling where a fraction of public education dollars are spent on innovative alternatives to the traditional public schools. They can emphasize the arts, the Socratic method, nature, boot-camp discipline or almost any other non-standard form to teach children.
They are nothing new; Alabama is one of only 11 states without charter schools.
Why are they important now? Because the Obama administration’s Race to the Top jackpot for state-by-state education ideas asks that applicants have the charter-school option.
And what’s at the top of the Education Department’s innovative grant program? Hundreds of millions of dollars that could go to Alabama schools, mostly the traditional ones.
Race to the Top doesn’t require states to have charter schools, only that they offer residents the option of starting them.
None of that matters to the AEA. Hubbert and his education association have fought charter schools, a notion they see as a rival for scarce education dollars.
And so Mr. Hubbert’s thumb was put to work. The House committee Wednesday voted 13-2 to essentially kill the charter schools bill for the 2010 session. A Senate committee will likely do the same in coming days.
Charter schools are not a rival to the AEA. They are merely a different method of education, and goodness knows no one has the market cornered on ideas for the best way to teach children.
Credit goes to the Riley administration for recognizing the need for charter schools, if for no other reason than they are a pathway to capturing federal dollars that can be put to work in Alabama classrooms.
The sad thing is that as much power as Gov. Bob Riley wields, it is apparently no match for one man’s thumb.