Byrne used that occasion to unveil his plan for improving education in Alabama.
Why shouldn’t he have a plan? The other gubernatorial candidates have a plan, or will. Nevertheless, strategies for improving public education in Alabama are as many and varied as the candidates themselves. They’re also quickly forgotten.
But give Byrne credit. After years of GOP hints about ways to improve education in the state, a candidate in this election has devised a distinct campaign. If elected, Byrne will wage war against the Alabama Education Association.
Over the years, this page has both damned and praised the AEA. We have praised it for making things better for teachers and, in the process, improving conditions for students. Happy, content and well-paid teachers do a better job.
On the other side of the ledger, this page has taken the AEA to serious task for putting its members in the state Legislature and using its considerable political power to block needed reforms — such as an effective charter-school program.
This spring, Byrne is warning the AEA what is coming. If he becomes governor, Byrne will try to:
n Change (he said “reform”) tenure laws. (The AEA will fight this.)
n Bring charter schools to Alabama. (The AEA will oppose this.)
n Resist interference by the AEA in community colleges. (The AEA may oppose this, too.)
n Modify teacher-certification requirements to allow non-certified professionals to teach — credentialing is an important quality-control mechanism for teachers. (The AEA will be less than enthusiastic about this.)
n Find an alternative to Alabama’s current formula for funding schools. (That’s sure to be another issue the AEA will debate.)
The rest of Byrne’s plan is reasonable. If the economy’s tepid rebound strengthens, the state might have financial incentives for teachers who perform well, and it might be able to expand existing reading, math, science and distance-learning initiatives.
Byrne also might be able to carry out his plan to use education for industrial development.
However, Byrne must know that if money is available, the AEA will want to use a good portion of it for teachers who have gone without raises during this lengthy financial crunch. So, a Gov. Byrne can expect a fight there, as well.
All of the above highlights what is really wrong with public education in Alabama.
Two political forces in the state not only wish to define what education will be, but also want to inflict a stinging defeat against the other. This has all the makings of a political grudge match. Working together and compromising are not concepts Alabamians hear from either side.
The grown-ups fight. When the dust settles, the real losers will be the students.