Alabama Senate Bill 119 courts controversy between educators, lawmakers

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A new senate bill in Alabama has courted controversy between the state legislature and educators after its introduction in a senate committee on March 19.

The bill, known as SB 119, was written by President Pro Tem of the Alabama Senate, Del Marsh, explicitly to remove the College and Career Readiness Standards of Alabama, more popularly known as Common Core.

This latest attempt to repeal it in Alabama has courted its own controversy due to what some critics call “a sham” public hearing and little time for educators to appear at the hearings to discuss the bill. The bill, known as SB 119, was introduced and voted on in a committee on March 19 in “less than 30 minutes, according to critics.

The bill then passed unanimously in committee before heading to the main chamber, where it passed 23-7.

Senators in support of the bill hope that it helps Alabama to improve educational performance. In a public statement on the passage of SB 119, Marsh said, “In the past I have made it clear that we have an elected school board who should dictate policy when it comes to education in Alabama, however it is clear that we have a dysfunctional school board who is incapable of making decisions that give our students and teachers the best chance at being successful.”

Main criticism of the bill focused around the vague language used in the original text and amended portions of SB 119, as well as the implications of what these potential changes could lead to.

Several teachers have highlighted problems they foresee having from the bill’s implementation if it were to become law, as well as the “ramifications” of its passage in its current state.

One point that educators who have read the bill are concerned about was the effect it would have on federal funding and the use of Advanced Placement courses, as well as if the phrase “any matter of control” include any influence on how a teacher prepares lessons, or just “the actual dictating of standards,” according to one source who opposes the new bill.

A single amendment was added to SB 119 on March 21, specifying that the legislation would not “affect, prohibit, or inhibit the use of college entrance exams, workforce skill assessments, advanced placement courses, career technical credentials, national board certifications, academic language therapy certification, Praxis, or other core academic skills for educators tests, armed service vocational aptitude tests, or International Baccalaureate standards.”

One teacher from Auburn High School who wished to remain anonymous said that “In many cases, the devil is in the details; it is the opposite here: the devil is in the lack of details.”

One section that is troubling to critics of the bill states that “any education entity or any state official shall not join any consortium or any other organization when participation in that consortium or organization would cede any measure of control over any aspect of Alabama public education to any such entity.”

The problem with that portion of the bill, according to teachers publicly against the law, is that the bill may “limit a district, or even an independent teacher, from contracting or attending a PD (professional development) session with an out-of-state entity.”

Responding to requests for clarification and the controversy surrounding the legislation, Sen. Marsh’s communications director William Califf clarified that federal programs and funding would not be affected by the removal of the federal standards.

According to Califf, the bill will have “no” effect on federal funding, will not have an effect on university educational programs or program accessibility, and will not impact Americans with Disabilities Act or Title IX compliance standards.

While there are no explicitly detailed plans in the legislation for implementing the change to education standards yet, Sen. Marsh’s office has stated that they are “always looking for ways to make improvements.”

Most portions of the bill focus on changing the educational standards, but one section sets the ability for not just the state, but its citizens to maintain compliance with the new laws.

Section 2 of SB 119 states that “Any citizen of the State of Alabama shall have standing in the courts of Alabama to bring suit to ensure enforcement of this act.” While the exact standard of enacting this provision has not been made clear, some Alabama teachers are “frightened” that parents may sue over what they see as “deviation” from the curriculum.

The main goal of the legislation, according to Califf, is to “have a functioning school board that is capable” of making the decisions regarding educational standards in the state of Alabama.

Now that SB 119 has passed the Senate, it will move on to a vote in the Alabama House of Representatives.

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