Tag: Alerts

Social and Emotional Learning, Privacy dangers, and Common Core Still Remain in Latest Draft AL State ESSA Consolidated Plan

  Eagle Forum of Alabama has fully examined each version of the Alabama State Consolidated ESSA Plan. See our first full analysis here, presented to then Superintendent Sentance.  The latest draft of the Alabama State Consolidated ESSA Plan does have some improvements since the first drafts, such as the removal of the Alabama Ascending Plan, however, major problems remain. Most importantly, social and emotional learning (SEL) programs, privacy concerns, and Common Core remain in the current plan that the board will vote on this Thursday.  See Eagle Forum of Alabama’s latest analysis on the new draft and the remaining problems which must be addressed.
         Eagle Forum of Alabama encourages the Interim Superintendent Ed Richardson, Governor Ivey, and the State Board of Education to take the best advantage of ESSA that is possible under the law. Unless the items or areas allowing for flexibility under ESSA are utilized, no greater flexibility will be achieved for Alabama in education. We recommend that the State Board of Education vote down The Plan in its current form until these recommended changes have been made, since The Plan will be a legally binding document with the federal government. There is no guarantee the USDOE will approve amendments or changes at a later time for Alabama.
        Ultimately ESSA is a policy paradox for Alabama as there is some opportunity for flexibility and movement away from the failed federal initiatives. However, there remains extensive and coercive federal overreach under ESSA.

         Eagle Forum of Alabama supports the ALSDE in movements toward greater flexibility and independence from the federal government.  This approach will yield greater positive results for student achievement, involved parents, and inspired educators. Please encourage your Alabama State Board of Education member to vote down the plan unless these important changes our made. Contact your Alabama State Board of Education member today.  Tell them to oppose the plan as submitted because SEL, Common Core and invasive data collection harm Alabama’s students. We want true academically superior standards and programs. Contact your board members now!

Comprehensive Analysis of the Consolidated ESSA State Plan and Recommendations for Alabama

August 17, 2017

Eagle Forum of Alabama has conducted an extensive review on ESSA and the Consolidated State ESSA Plan (“The Plan”) for Alabama. Eagle Forum of Alabama has reviewed committee reports from the strategic planning committees formed by Superintendent Sentance and the Alabama Ascending Plan and has studied the ESSA Implementation documents and report in addition to the Consolidated State ESSA Plan because all are attached or were referenced as sources for the consolidated draft plan from Superintendent Sentance. Eagle Forum of Alabama diligently monitored, researched and served on implementation committees, sub-committees and attended the parental engagement tours held throughout Alabama. Eagle Forum of Alabama recorded, photographed, and collected official handouts as well as documents from every implementation committee event or meeting held in the state.

As stated by Superintendent Sentance at the State Board of Education meeting on July 11, 2017 when referring to the Consolidated State ESSA Plan for Alabama, “this is a legally binding document for the state of Alabama.” Eagle Forum of Alabama therefore recommends that Alabama utilize the greatest amount of flexibility authorized under the ESSA and revise The Plan as stated below.

  • Inaccurate history of ESSA Implementation Committee and lack of student and parental involvement in ESSA implementation process

The Plan incorrectly states that all stakeholders were involved in The Plan’s development. Eagle Forum of Alabama found that parents were not properly valued or included in the process, and that it was extremely difficult for Alabama’s citizens, parents, and students to engage in the ESSA implementation process. In contrast, this process made it easy for state employees, paid lobbyists, agency heads, and state paid administrators to participate. There was also concern about possible violations of the Alabama Sunshine Law in relation to the date and time of announcements for ESSA committee meetings. Page 8 of The Plan claims that “ESSA Implementation committees worked in conjunction with Strategic Planning Committees.” This is also incorrect. There was no meeting or correspondence between these committees or bodies unless it was conducted unofficially without the consent of the general ESSA implementation committee.

The development of The Plan described on page 7 is inaccurate as well, as parents were not involved in the implementation committee or its sub-committees in a meaningful way. Neither were parents involved with the strategic planning committees in a meaningful way. The Plan therefore needs to reflect an accurate record of their lack of involvement or access.  Page 14 describes an “expansive process,” in which “Alabama has been diligently engaging stakeholders”. Detailed communications were made by a committee member to the Chair Jeana Ross about the serious problems with the online survey by ESSA committee members. The questionnaire was difficult for parents to find, difficult to access from the website, and the instructions and submitting process was not working properly. While the committee member was told these problems would be addressed, this same problem for parental or public input remained during the implementation process.

 

  • Utilize ESSA’s Opportunity for Flexibility and Local Control

The Plan should take advantage of the flexibility authorized under ESSA and adjust certain provisions accordingly.

  • Both the ESSA and the General Education Provisions Act (GEPA) explicitly restrict the role of the federal government in education. While GEPA puts the SEA’s in an oversight role for federal grants and asks them to encourage participation in their programs, for example, Section 438 states that none of its provisions authorize the federal government to exercise any “direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system.” Thus, the law clarifies that states should not allow undue influence by the federal government on its curriculum or published documents.
  • In the present version of The Plan eight different oversight programs will be over the LEAs in Alabama. Each of these federal programs require oversight and are overly broad. (page 50-52)
  • Florida’s ESSA plan requests waiver from the 95 percent testing mandate cited under ESSA section 1111(c)(4)(E) which is referenced on page 28 of the consolidated plan. Eagle Forum of Alabama recommends Alabama pursue the same waiver request from this mandate, as the federal government has no legal authority for this mandate.
  • In addition, ESSA provides some prohibitions on testing mandates from the USDOE and the Secretary of USDOE. Moving control of testing and assessments back to the states is a step towards real education reform and local control. Lastly, the Superintendent and Alabama State Board of Education members have been successful in obtaining more flexibility from the current Secretary of Education by ending the Act Aspire contract.
  • As State Board of Education member Jackie Ziegler pointed out during discussion of The Plan at SBOE meeting; Page 14 contains an error that needs to be changed. ACT Aspire will not be Alabama’s interim accountability system. Eagle Forum of Alabama’s research shows that Global Scantron is a Common Core aligned system as well.
  • The term “Students” needs to be clearly described as public school students.

Page 9 uses the term “all students,” which is then used throughout the ESSA plan. Given that this document is purportedly “legally binding on the states” as stated by Superintendent Sentance, The Plan needs to avoid overly broad language and, therefore, clarify that the word “student” is in reference to public school students only.

  • Inaccurate Description of American government promoted

The United States government has a Representative Republic form of government, not a “democracy”. “Democracy,” however, is what describes our government on page 9 of The Plan. It is of pivotal importance that students understand basic civics starting with a proper understanding of the American system of government as outlined in the United States Constitution. In order for students to understand and exercise their rights as citizens, they must have an accurate and basic knowledge of our government structure, and this error needs to be addressed.

  • State Revision Procedure of Academic Standards and Assessment Section

Eagle Forum of Alabama agrees with the implementation committee recommendation that Alabama’s revision process for its academic standards should provide greater feedback to parents and the public who have concerns about the standards review process.  The course of study statute addresses the process for changing course of studies. Section 16-35-1 states, “Composition; appointment, qualifications and terms of members. The State Board of Education shall appoint a courses of study committee as set forth below for the purposes and functions as hereinafter provided.” Since new data has emerged following the implementation of Common Core in Alabama, the Plan faces possible compliance issues as Common Core does not provide challenging academic standards. Eagle Forum of Alabama encourages moving Alabama forward with standards that hold a proven academic track record of growth and success.

  • NAEP historical revisionism needs to be addressed

There is no acknowledgement of the correlation between Common Core implementation and failing test scores.  Before Common Core implementation Alabama’s academic achievements in reading due to the Alabama Reading Initiative were acclaimed nationwide. (https://www.alsde.edu/sec/ari/History/ARI%20History.pdf)  At this time, Alabama had risen from near last to 25th in overall grades and scores according to Education Week. But that was before Common Core implementation in 2012 in Math and 2013 in English.

According to 2015 NAEP tests, Alabama’s average math score in both 4th and 8th grade was the lowest of any state. Some Common Core promoters continue to blame Alabama’s poverty rate as the cause of its failing scores, but in doing so, they ignore Alabama’s previous successes under its earlier standards despite these demographics. Indeed, according to PARCA Perspective published in October of 2015, “Between 2013 and 2015, Alabama’s average score declined in both grades. …While Alabama’s higher poverty rate puts it at something of a competitive disadvantage in national comparisons, a deeper look shows it’s not Alabama demographics skewing the results. Name the group-black, white, Hispanic, poverty and non-poverty-all perform worse than their peers in all other states.” The Plan needs to adequately reflect Alabama’s NAEP history.

 

  • Common Core reinforcement and promotional rhetoric

Eagle Forum of Alabama encourages Alabama to seek greater flexibility and independence from the federally controlled Common Core system, which promotes academically inferior standards.  Common Core was not created by educators or leaders in Alabama.  Therefore, it should not be represented as Alabama led or created. Alabama’s education system must move towards local and state control. Most importantly, Eagle Forum of Alabama wants academically superior standards to replace the failing Common Core standards.  On page 16 of the Plan it falsely describes Common Core as “rigorous”. “Access for ELLs [English Language Learners] recently went through a standards setting study in 2016 in order to meet the rigorous language demands of College and Career Readiness Standards.” (pg. 16) As the Superintendent Sentance has stated Common Core standards are not “internationally benchmarked” nor “rigorous” standards.  We recommend promoting greater flexibility for local educators and more independence from the USDOE in The Plan. The Plan should therefore remove its “College and Career ready” indicator for accountability, as tying Alabama to this indicator with 10 percent ensures the continued promotion of Common Core which has failed Alabama’s students. (pg. 21-24) The Alabama Ascending Plan also reinforces Common Core on page 6 and the Strategic Planning Committees promote Common Core throughout.  Common Core is referenced in the documents as “College and Career Readiness Standards.” (pg. 16 of The Plan) In order to achieve the long term goal outlined in the Plan to “reduce the number of students not proficient in 2030 by 50%” Common Core must be replaced with superior standards.

Conflicts with data-work group recommendations and privacy concerns

The data collection sub-groups official recommendations that were unanimously supported were that no data would be collected beyond what was required by the federal government pursuant to ESSA. That means anything collected indirectly or directly for the Federal Government beyond what ESSA requires is in violation of the data sub-groups official recommendations. Eagle Forum of Alabama supports the data-sub groups unanimous recommendations to protect children from invasive data collection practices that violate student and family privacy.

  • N score

The Superintendent Association, along with the data work group, recommended only providing what was legally required and nothing further. The number used for the N score is much lower than the number the state should utilize to exercise flexibility. This not only conflicts with suggestions from Alabama’s educational leaders, but it endangers student privacy and Alabama’s sovereignty. De-identified data or aggregated data can be re-identified to contain personally identifiable data. https://techscience.org/a/2015092903/  The Plan proposes a number of 20 as referenced page 13, but ESSA does not require 20 for the N score. Therefore, Eagle Forum of Alabama recommends the number of thirty or higher for the N score.

  • Subjective factors that require inaccurate surveys or Personally Identifiable Data (PII) data collection

Data from areas of “student engagement,” “educator engagement,” “school climate and safety,” or any data that could lead to increased psychological profiling in the accountability scheme should not be used or listed in The Plan. Eagle Forum of Alabama recommends ALSDE use academic factors instead.

  • Graduation Tracking System

 

The state sets out as its goal to identify students starting in 3rd grade as at risk of dropping out by using a strategy of the Graduation Tracking System (pg. 33-34).  Clarification of this system is needed, as is clarification of its purposes, including its purpose: to “increase grade promotion rates leading to students graduating on time.” This language is unduly vague and without clarification, leaves room for ineffective instruction and undue grade promotion. Significantly tracking systems usually hold high dangers for student privacy and Alabama currently has no comprehensive student privacy protections. Labeling students at an early age can be very detrimental in tracking systems. Lastly, this tracking system contains an inherent flaw by allowing the criteria to be constantly shifted. (pg. 34) Eagle Forum of Alabama advises not including any tracking systems in The Plan.

  • Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) Privacy Concerns

 

School-based counseling and mental health programs should not be expanded at this time, as there is no way to protect this data.  FERPA has been critically weakened by USDOE and is outdated as it was passed in 1974. The law is antiquated in addressing the technological changes in society. In Alabama, the Comprehensive Student Privacy Protection Act has not yet been passed. There is no privacy protection for Alabama’s students; therefore, students will be harmed by PBIS. It should not be included in The Plan.

  • Diagnostic testing for 5k and mandatory four-year plan

The diagnostic testing requirements listed in the Alabama Ascending Plan for entering kindergarten have not been fully defined, and not enough information has been provided. Any such pre-assessments should only serve to improve the teachers’ approach and shouldn’t be tied to any state or local assessment. In regards to The Plan we recommend that any reference to an assessment aligned to the diagnostic testing be dropped.

The four-year plan in 8th grade described in Alabama Ascending is a continuation of an earlier model from Plan 2020.  Mandatory plans of this nature are not voluntary and should be under the control of the parent and, student not included in federal agreements.  In addition, states that have moved forward with mandatory four-year plans or mandatory career plans violate parental and students rights. http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/08/us/chicago-high-school-graduation-requirement/index.html Mandatory plans of this nature may face constitutional litigation from families or students as public schools are not constitutional free zones. It is best for the students and families to make these decisions. The school does not need to approve of plans or require one from the student.

  • Social and Emotional Learning
  • Superintendent Sentance agreed with concerned leaders and parents that social emotional learning is not the role of public educators, but the role of parents. In addition, schools are not properly equipped or trained for this area. Social and emotional learning, however, is still included in The Plan (page 34) as well as the Alabama Ascending Plan. It is the continued position of Eagle Forum of Alabama that it is not the role of ALSDE to analyze or control a child’s development in these areas, and it is not the role of the federal government to force a state to enact such provisions. https://thenationalpulse.com/commentary/attention-parents-social-emotional-learning-state-education-plans/ Removing social emotional learning from the Alabama Ascending plan as well as from The Plan and other attached documents will ensure teachers are not threatened with lawsuits and are not distracted from attending to critical areas of learning and student academic growth. Eagle Forum of Alabama therefore recommends that all references to social and emotional learning or associated programs be removed from both the Alabama Ascending Plan and The Plan. (pg. 18 of AL Ascending)
  • In addition, the terms “suicide prevention,” “bullying and harassment,” “crisis prevention and conflict resolution,” “human trafficking,” “child abuse awareness and prevention,” “safety and violence prevention,” and “trauma informed classroom management” used in The Plan are outside of the realm of academic teaching and should be removed. Alabama law already requires educators and administrators in public education to report suspected child abuse and training already is provided in many of these areas. While these are important issues, it is not the role of the public educator to address them. Some of these areas of involvement infringe on the role of the parents in society and involve subjective value judgement of students and could lead to possible discrimination as these terms or programs are defined.  The primary role of the educator should be providing quality educational instruction to their public-school students, not addressing social or societal problems.
  • Office of School Improvement and Turnaround (OSIT): Eagle Forum of Alabama finds that the creation of a new state agency (OSIT) is promoting the wrong approach to helping schools needing improvement and is a counterproductive use of federal or state funds. On page 24 it describes using staff to intervene by using “Climate, culture, and mental health specialists.” These staff members will be promoting social and emotional health, which co-opts parental rights and will not improve student academic performance. Schools will be provided different levels of “support” from the office depending on how they perform on Alabama’s six selected indicators, including the college and career ready rate for that school. This is an overly broad practice of intervention in schools and promotes the top down approach that has not been effective in the past. OSIT has no record of success and should not be institutionalized by the ESSA plan.

 

  • PBIS Social and Emotional Concerns: The promise to improve “school conditions” for Title 1 schools is listed on page 32-33 of The Plan this includes social and emotional learning agendas. For example, it includes references to “restorative justice practices for school discipline” and training LEAs for positive behavior supports (PBIS) philosophy.  This portion of the Plan is somewhat unclear and unduly broad.  Given a number of schools receiving Title 1 funds also serve high-achieving populations as well as high-risk populations, it seems The Plan is establishing a state-wide discipline approach that will not fit needs of every school system. Alabama should therefore leave room for local agencies to be trained in the philosophy that best works for its students’ successes.
  • While Eagle Forum of Alabama believes strongly in helping children with special needs, PBIS is being used to improperly label children with disabilities or the wrong disabilities. Parental consent should be required for mental health screenings and to avoid any constitutional violations. The data file produced from PBIS is also suspect for its authenticity, educational effectiveness, and collection method. PBIS should not be included in The Plan.
  • Student Support and Academic Enrichment GrantsBecause these programs violate constitutionally protected parental rights and promote invasive psychological practices, Eagle Forum of Alabama objects and recommends their removal. Section 4108 of ESSA describes programs that utilize a broad range of factors that will likely result in subjective or invasive programs: “Early identification of mental health symptoms, drug use, and violence, and appropriate referrals.” Medical treatment and referrals should require parental consent, but there is no legal requirement for consent in this section. Teachers are not trained as medical or psychological professionals to diagnose children or to conduct screenings. This will lead to a host of problems for Alabama’s students in regards to academic development.
  • 21st Century Community Learning Centers: Eagle Forum of Alabama’s research and study finds that 21st Century Community Learning Centers have not been an effective use of educational resources. Public education is a part of the community but it is not the community alone. These community learning centers will be primarily used for non-academic purposes and will not be dedicated to Alabama k-12 system. We recommend not including any agreement involving community learning centers.
  • Invasive Programs that need to be removed or addressed in Alabama’s ESSA Consolidated Plan

 

  • “Engaged Families and Communities”

 

Eagle Forum of Alabama, like other leaders in education policy, wants parents and students engaged in their education at every step.  However, the “Engaged Families and Communities” programs listed in ESSA and cited on page 21 of the Plan do not promote family engagement. Instead this aspect of ESSA promotes monitoring and collecting personal data on families-especially their interpersonal communications and their communications with the public education system. Data collection on families does not improve parental engagement in the public education system.  It should be removed or altered appropriately.

 

  • Reach

 

Eagle Forum of Alabama recommends removal of all aspects of the Reach initiative and Reach Advisory Program from The Plan. The student advisory program listed on page 34-35 of the consolidated plan raise problems for parental and student rights. “It is not everyone’s responsibility”; it is students and parents responsibility to direct and control their education. This is a philosophical perspective of education that violates parental rights and promotes collectivism in Alabama’s public education system. More information would need to be provided to parents before this program should be supported.

  • Improper Instructions on ESSA Intervention Programs for At-Risk Youth and Homeless Assistance

(722(g)(1)(B) is a non-regulatory guidance section from the USDOE. (pg. 54-59 of The Plan) Eagle Forum of Alabama finds the invasive factors to be used to identify homeless children as concerning. The list cited on pg. 54 includes a broad sweeping list of factors that may indicate homelessness gives broad authority to school based personnel and representatives from other service agencies this list to identify homelessness. This includes many factors such as looking at grooming practices and living at a temporary residence. (pg. 54) “The McKinney Vento Act is designed to address the challenges that homeless children and youths have faced in enrolling, attending, and succeeding in school.” https://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/essa/160240ehcyguidance072716.pdf

  • “What if the LEA determines that it is not in the child’s or youth’s best interest to attend the school of origin or school requested by the parent, guardian, or unaccompanied youth?” The section of instructions in this non-regulatory guidance are concerning in relation to parental rights and other legal rights of families and students. While aspects of homelessness student data collection is required by ESSA, Eagle Forum of Alabama suggests removing the identification factors from the plan listed on page 54. We did not find that these exact factors were required. Additionally, the non-regulatory federal guidance from (722(g)(1)(B) engages broad sweeping assumptions about homeless children and their families. Eagle Forum of Alabama encourages a re-examination of the enforcement of this ESSA section to ensure the best treatment of homeless children and their families especially in regards to their legal rights pages 54-59.
  • Strategic Planning Committees Bureaucratic Approach to Education
  • The Plan on page 8 and as well as the Alabama Ascending Plan include the strategic planning committee reports and the Alabama Ascending Plan which were composed in major sections by these planning committee’s recommendations. Eagle Forum of Alabama finds that the science, math, and reading committees reports will, if implemented, increase bureaucracy by creating new agencies and increase federal control of Alabama education’s system. Most importantly, they fail to address deep problems with Alabama’s current Common Core standards.
  • Eagle Forum of Alabama sees that it is not teacher preparation or experience that is the greatest barrier for students but instead the failing system of Common Core especially its impact on testing, professional development, and curriculum. Common Core’s emphasis on informational texts replacing classic literature is not addressed by reading committee. Alabama’s teachers and students can compete with any state but face bureaucratic barriers to focusing on academic achievement. The reading committee supports keeping the “College and Career Readiness Standards” but fails to address Common Core’s impact on teachers and students shown by NAEP scores. (pg. 5 of reading) “The council will develop a statewide literacy plan in collaboration with MS, SC, and TN with support from the Regional Education Lab (REL).” (page 14 of reading) Eagle Forum of Alabama finds this announcement deeply concerning as Alabama needs to control its own teacher preparation not outside organizations or regional councils.
  • The science committee report primarily focuses on tools, funding, and a three-dimensional approach to science education. While Eagle Forum of Alabama also supports a hands-on approach to science education in part, teacher’s knowledge in their subject area remains critical. Instead of swinging the pendulum solely towards a three-dimensional approach reducing emphasis on knowledge for students and educators a more balanced approach would be more productive for science education in Alabama. If tools and funding are issues at this time CPLE would not be a productive use of state educational resources. There are already many SEA agencies that are responsible for improving science and math education as well as instruction in Alabama. Including AMSTEC, AMSTI, STEM, and ASIM referenced in the report already acting. (pg. 5-9 of science) Additional agencies and initiatives would be wasteful and increase state bureaucracy in science education. We also already have existing Colleges of Education which teach courses on science education and require teacher preparation that cover these areas of education. These college education departments should not be supplanted by new state agencies.
  • Math educators should not be focused on “advocacy” or “empowerment”. (pg. 2 of math) Community development and workforce development should not be the primary focus or main goal of math educators in Alabama. However, an entire subcommittee was set up to focus on these areas. (pg. 2 of math) The main goal of math educators in Alabama should be to provide excellent and high quality math instruction to public school students. The sub-committee “Teacher Education Programs in Higher Education” was almost primarily composed of individuals from higher education instead of current k-12 instructors in Alabama’s public schools.
  • Math education summary shows a derogatory perspective on Alabamians and especially parents. “The committee urges the public to help make these recommendations a reality by realizing mathematics cannot be a dinner joke about not mattering in our lives.” (pg. 41 of math) This derogatory approach to parents and students is harmful to engaging parents in education reformIt should not be supported. It is not funny that in its forty-six-page report and 55 recommendations not one includes addressing failed Common Core math standards. Alabama’s parents care deeply for their child’s education especially in math and that is why they support reforms to current standards.
  • In addition, the strategic planning committees did not include parents or students in their process. While their report describes their extensive work they only met three times. (pg. 2 of math) Eagle Forum of Alabama recommends reworking the Alabama Ascending Plan and removing input from the strategic planning committee as they worked outside of the ESSA implementation process. In addition, their suggestions were not shared or discussed by the ESSA implementation committee members. Some of the committees suggestions, if implemented, would violate federal law. “This will be accomplished through a nationally aligned rigorous curriculum….”. (pg. 5 of reading) Since a national curriculum has been prohibited by Congress, the promotion of such a system conflicts with ESSA. Eagle Forum of Alabama strongly advises removing any references or recommendations from these three committees or suggestions from any of the planning committees in any attached plans or included documents with The Plan.

 

Conclusion:

Ultimately ESSA is a policy paradox for Alabama as there is some opportunity for flexibility and movement away from the failed federal initiatives. However, there remains extensive and coercive federal overreach under ESSA. Eagle Forum of Alabama supports the ALSDE in movements towards greater flexibility and independence from the federal government.  This approach will yield greater positive results for student achievement, involved parents, and inspired educators. The ALSDE has been promoting ESSA on its website and representing it in an improper light. ESSA represents federal overreach into state education systems and should not be promoted to the public by the department. http://www.alsde.edu/dept/essa/Pages/home.aspx

While the department will need to share the applicable laws on its state website, promoting ESSA or legislation that gives the Secretary at the Federal level authority over Alabama’s education system is not the proper role of ALSDE. The ALSDE was not tasked to defend or promote the federal education legislation through parental engagement tours or its ESSA meetings.  Instead the requirement of public input meant reaching out for meaningful feedback on ESSA.

Eagle Forum of Alabama supports Superintendent Sentance, Governor Ivey and the State Board of Education in taking the best advantage of ESSA that is possible under the law. Unless the items or areas allowing for flexibility under ESSA are utilized, no greater flexibility will be achieved for Alabama in education. We recommend that the State Board of Education vote down The Plan in its current form until these recommendations have been made since The Plan will be a legally binding document with the federal government. There is no guarantee the USDOE will approve amendments or changes at a later time for Alabama.

 Respectfully submitted by Eagle Forum of Alabama and

 Alabama ESSA Implementation Committee Members:

Deborah Love, J.D., Executive Director Eagle Forum of Alabama, ESSA Implementation Committee Member, Data Collection and Reporting-Sub Group Committee Member, and Early Learning Sub-Group Committee Member,

Krissie Allen, J.D., M.A.Ed., ESSA Implementation Committee Member, Standards, Assessment and English Learners Sub-Group Committee Member

Margaret Clark, J.D., M.A. Biblical Studies: ESSA Implementation Committee Member, Accountability Sub-Group Committee Member, Titles Programs, Grants and Requirements Sub-Group Committee Member

Shag LaPrade, M.S. Health and PE., Ret. Marine Gunnery Sergeant, School Board Member for Coffee County 2010-2016, ESSA Implementation Committee Member, Data Collection and Reporting-Sub Group Committee Member

Imperative immediate call to Gov. Ivey

Please contact Governor Ivey ASAP and ask her to protect the freedom of religion in Alabama, her churches and their members. Ask her to sign The Child Placing Agency Inclusion Act (HB24/SB145) without any executive amendment and without delay!  To contact the Governor’s office, call: 1-334-242-7100 AND email by going to: governor.Alabama.gov/contact.

This act protects church and religious operated state-licensed adoption agencies from being required to make same sex adoption placements in violation of their religious beliefs based on scriptural marriage. With the 2015 Obergefell SCOTUS opinion legalizing same sex marriage, regulations are expected requiring same sex marriage placements. Already in Massachusetts, Illinois, Washington, DC and San Francisco, Christian adoption agencies have closed.

Adoption is an important alternative to abortion. We cannot afford the closing down of 30% of Alabama adoptions done by the affected agencies.

The Human Rights campaign, a heavily financed LGBTQ lobbying organization, abortion interests and others have opposed these bills, but they passed both houses with large margins. Now, we are told that Google, AT&T and Apple are pressuring Governor Ivey to add the amendment.  Please let our new Governor know that we need her to stand with the Alabama Christian Community and sign the act.

This issue is about more than protecting innocent life; it is about the very essence of religious freedom. In committee, Christians were said to be intolerant and discriminatory. Our religious beliefs were expected to be secondary to the desires of homosexuals.

This is our first confrontation in Alabama with the gay rights agenda. If we do not stand firm now, we will face increased opposition.  Those organizations that oppose us because of what we believe, will coalesce; and we will find we have little or no voice in protecting our values. Large corporations, gay rights advocates, abortion interests, gambling interests, and you name it, will be telling us how to live. Our sincerely held religious beliefs dictate against what they want.  We must act now to protect our rights for ourselves and our posterity.  We must not allow those who advocate unhealthy lifestyles to discriminate against us and against Christian ministries, nor advance their agenda at the expense of vulnerable youth and the whole of society.

We are indebted to Eric Johnston of Southeast Law Institute for much of the foregoing explanation.
 

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All Pro-life Bills Pass Senate

Wonderful news!  All three pro-life bills that we have supported this legislative session passed the Senate today.  They now head to the Governor’s desk for signature.

1.  The Healthcare Rights of Conscience bill (religious freedom for healthcare providers who object to abortion, cloning, stem-cell research) by Rep. Arnold Mooney/Sen. Paul Sanford

2.  Ban on Assisted Suicide bill by Representative Mack Butler/Senator Phil Williams

3.  Right to Life Constitutional Amendment (a constitutional amendment to go on the ballot declaring that abortion is not a protected right in Alabama)  by Rep. Matt Fridy/Sen. Phil

Williams

Thank you to everyone who turned out to lobby for life, and especially those legislators that voted to protect it!

 

Get the Facts on HB277

Get the facts on HB277!  It is important for Alabamians to learn more about the significant role of religious and private child care providers in Alabama. A large portion of Alabama’s families rely on these providers to care for their children on a daily basis.  These are predominately church operated ministries to church members and outreaches to the community. A smaller number are affiliated with religious schools. Many prefer private facilities which are licensed exempt over state controlled facilities. In October 2016, there were 998 licensed and 943 license exempt child care centers in Alabama, according to Alabama DHR. The number of licensed exempt child care centers in Alabama is increasing because many families our choosing licensed exempt centers.

Families already have a choice between licensed exempt and licensed by the state child care providers. Yet many decide to not attend licensed child care providers and purposely go to licensed exempt child care options. Even the grandchild of the sponsor of HB277 attends a license exempt child care provider in Alabama.  Opposition to HB277 is about protecting children by protecting some of the best, safe, and positive child care options for children in Alabama. If hard working Alabamians no longer have high quality and low cost options, it harms children.  Many families will no longer have the opportunities and options they rely on for their families.

No one is exempt from child safety laws or regulations 

  • Licensed exempt day care providers are not exempt from child safety laws and regulations. All child care providers in Alabama are either licensed exempt or licensed. To become licensed exempt the provider must file appropriate paperwork with DHR including immunization records.
  • Criminal behavior is already outlawed in the state of Alabama regardless of where the crime occurs whether in a private or public setting. There are many state laws which directly address child abuse and neglect. The appropriate state agencies already possess the authority to investigate and punish criminals
  • Just as public school employees those at licensed exempt child care facilities already must pass full criminal background checks. (AL Code 38-13-3)
  • In addition, the State of Alabama already places an affirmative duty on child care employees in private and public settings with the responsibility to report suspected child abuse.
  • Child care providers are regulated for health and safety standards by multiple state agencies already. License exemption for child care providers in Alabama does not mean they are exempt from child safety laws and regulations.

What is currently required of licensed exempt facilities?

 DHR provides a list of requirements that involves their agency here http://dhr.alabama.gov/services/Child_Care_Services/license%20Exempt%20Centers.aspx

  • Notice that the child care program is an integral part of a local church
  • Notice that intent to operate a child care program has been given to the appropriate health departments so that facilities will be inspected to meet standards
  • Inspection by fire department at least once a year
  • Inspection by the Alabama Department of Public Health at least twice a year
  • Notice to the department certifying health inspection reports, immunizations, and medical forms for all staff and children.
  • Notice to parents of staff qualifications, pupil-student ratio, discipline policies, type of curriculum, religious teachings, and type of lunch program.
  • Parents required to sign affidavits about licensed-exempt status
  • Church/facility must submit affidavits of notification to DHR
  • Must follow all state and federal laws

What are the thirteen agencies who currently regulate license-exempt providers in Alabama?

  • Alabama Department of Human Resources
  • Alabama and Local Health Department
  • State Fire Marshall
  • State Building Commission
  • Alabama Department of Revenue
  • Alabama Department of Labor
  • Alabama Law Enforcement Agency
  • Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration
  • Federal Transportation Administration
  • Local Codes (zoning, safety requirements)
  • Safe States (enforce asbestos laws)
  • County District Attorney
  • The Alabama Code governing numerous aspects of caring for children

Licensed care does not ensure safety

DHR and other state agencies have failed on many occasions to follow through on inspections to facilities. In 2014 changes to block grants from the Federal Government required DHR to inspect facilities receiving grants whether or not they are license exempt.  Those inspections were not always completed.  Regulations and license requirements have failed on many occasions to protect children.

  • There is no evidence that licensed day care facilities are safer than license exempt facilities. We can all cherry pick examples in either public or private settings, but there is no factual evidence that licensed facilities are safer than non-licensed facilities.

Misleading examples of child endangerment as pretext for state action

As a matter of fact, every claim of injury to children upon which HB277 proponents rely are as a result of the violation of health standards already required of licensed exempt facilities.  If DHR and the responsible health departments had done their jobs, those events would not have happened. But more to the point, DHR regulation would not have prevented them. However, it certainly makes for good, if not misleading, selling points to uninformed observers.

Sunny Side Day Care– Sunny Side Day Care was highlighted as a key example of a licensed exempt center for a staph infection outbreak that happened at that location. Sunny Side Day Care receives funding from the Federal Government. That means state agencies already have more ability and responsibility to regulate that facility. However, on many occasions DHR has failed to inspect some facilities as they did in regards to Sunny Side. In regards to food safety all child care facilities must meet be food safety, standards already. All the reasonable measure are already in place to address this problem.  There was no clear testimony provided that regulations or licenses would have prevented the staph incident. This memorandum from the Office of Inspector General about license exempt facilities examines the legal authority. https://oig.hhs.gov/oei/reports/oei-07-10-00231.pdf

  • There is no guarantee that regulations or licenses will prevent all health incidents but one thing is clear: Alabama DHR had the ability to inspect Sunny Side Day Care facility prior to the staph incident. Licenses and regulations do not ensure a child’s safety.

HB277 exempts certain child- care facilities but targets religious facilities

Do supporters of HB277 think that licenses and the regulations associated with this bill protect children?  Why then are shopping center day cares exempt on page 6 of HB277 Why would public controlled facilities be exempt from this regulation? The potential for safety concerns for children is the same in these locations as others.

Follow the money

The free market allows parents to decide for themselves in what type of educational environment or child care facility they would like to place their child. Most parents like options because it produces the best choices for their children. However some groups and individuals are resorting to scare tactics to push economic protectionism against religious affiliated facilities. In the last several years more families have been moving away from licensed facilities and towards licensed-exempt facilities. That concerns some who benefit economically from licensed centers.

  • In addition to the economic protectionism aspects of HB277, the Federal involvement and out of state donations to lobbying organizations have thrown big money to groups and agencies to push for licensure mandates. As the fiscal note for the HB277 shows the financial support for this regulation comes from the Federal government http://alisondb.legislature.state.al.us/ALISON/SearchableInstruments/2017RS/FiscalNotes/FN-36426.htm. Another source of funding for this lobbying push comes from Kellogg Foundation a national out of state organization.

Public policy should be based on facts not stereotypes

Religious and secular child care providers both care about protecting children and helping families. That is why they do what they do.  There have been many innuendos and false claims made about religious institutions in Alabama.

  • The vast majority of Alabama’s religious institutions and religiously affiliated providers do wonderful work for Alabama’s families. Just as we do not judge every public school teacher by the actions of a small percentage of teachers we should apply that same respect for private and religious institutions.
  • We punish the individual not an entire religious community or group. We do not judge every private child care institution by select bad actors. That promotes fear and prejudice between Alabama’s religious populations, the general public and state agencies. Solid public policy proposals will not result from fear tactics and prejudice.

Religious Liberty Violations

“A child care facility that is an integral part of a church or nonprofit religious school shall be licensed…” (pg. 27 of HB277)  HB277 removes important religious liberty protections that ensure Alabama’s diverse religious population has freedom to exercise their religious beliefs in regards to early childhood development without government intrusion and control. “Also under existing law, child care facilities that are part of a church or nonprofit religious school are exempt from licensing by the Department of Human Resources.” (pg. 1 of HB277) Alabama’s diverse religious communities have for generations worked to protect children, start hospitals, adoption agencies, founded schools, and ministries for the poor.

Separation of church and state means that the state does not control the church or any religious institutions. If the church must receive a license from the state in order to operate a ministry that violates the religious liberty protections Alabamians have been provided in the state and Federal Constitution.  Protecting children and religious freedom are not mutually exclusive. As a matter of fact parents and the Alabama Constitution expect them to be mutually inclusive. The Alabama Religious Freedom Amendment provides for what is called the “compelling interest test.” Government may not burden or restrict a religious activity or belief without first having a compelling interest to do so in the least burdensome or restrictive way. HB277 is unconstitutional and will likely face class action suit by Alabama religious institutions. It will very likely be struck down.

  • First Amendment United States Constitution applicable to Alabama

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

  • Alabama Religious Freedom Amendment 622, section V

Section V. (a) Government shall not burden a person’s freedom of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, except as provided in subsection (b).

(b) Government may burden a person’s freedom of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person:

(1) Is in furtherance of a compelling government interest; and

(2) Is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling government interest.

(c) A person whose religious freedom has been burdened in violation of this section may assert that violation as a claim or defense in a judicial, administrative, or other proceeding and obtain appropriate relief against a government.

Government overreach

Hundreds of licensed exempt facilities will close due to HB277 unnecessary regulatory overreach. HB277 oversteps and violates what the proper role of government is in Alabama.  The government has an interest in protecting safety of all Alabamians but that does not mean the government should control private religious institutions. Reasonable regulations and criminal laws already punish bad actors. State agencies already retain the ability to regulate and inspect in needed situations.  Demanding licenses and the regulatory power that comes with licenses will not improve children’s safety. Instead, a license requirement will mean more state control over private and religious institutions. If the church was must come to the state to request to operate then the church is not free from state intrusion. In addition to day cares HB277 will regulate mother’s day out, volunteers, day nurseries, and play groups.

Removes Parental Authority and choice

Currently there are more positive child care options and choices in early childhood service providers in the state of Alabama. Once HB277 passes that will no longer be the case. If you dislike one provider, you have options outside of state regulated facilities or facilities who accept grants. Families who rely on grants also have options currently. However, HB277 will remove this option for parents.  It will require every child care provider to follow the same regimen, and it will give state agencies control of these institutions.

Truth about minimum standards

Many private and religious child care providers in Alabama already go above and beyond minimum standards by DHR.  HB277 would require every day care facility to follow the list of regulations called minimum standards. Child neglect, abuse, health, and safety regulations and law exist and are already in place outside of minimum standards. Many religious institutions or private facilities reject DHR minimum standards.  These regulations have many aspects that are not directly related to child’s safety but they are instead more focused toward the facility.

DHR would have the full authority to deny licensing, employment, and ability to volunteer based on individual receiving speeding tickets, or criminal charges even when found innocent.

DHR would have the authority to consider a center’s beliefs unsuitable for licensing, employment and the ability to volunteer.

DHR can immediately terminate license, employment and the ability to volunteer for being viewed as unsuitable with no proof of wrongdoing. It gives them unintended control due to the subjectivity of determining who or what is “unsuitable”.

DHR can close a center for what they “think” is a lack of business funds.

DHR holds the approval to whether or not a Center Director can be hired.

DHR requirements for certain number of staff per child.

Real Solutions

Rather than address the issue of a few “for profit” daycares masquerading as churches, proponents of HB277 want to remove the protection of all churches. The good faith offer of actual redress of the real problem has been disingenuously and deceitfully rejected by supporters of HB277 in favor of unconstitutional church regulation. Using child protection as an excuse, their real goal is church regulation of this very important church ministry, the choice of parents to raise up their children in the way they should go. 

Dr. Allen Mendenhall, Executive Director, The Blackstone & Burke Center for Law & Liberty

Joe Godfrey, Executive Director, Alabama Citizen’s Action Program

Alabama Citizen’s Action Program

Robin Mears, Executive Director, Alabama Christian Education Association

Eunie Smith, President, Eagle Forum of Alabama

Deborah Love, Executive Director, Eagle Forum of Alabama

Eric Johnston, President of The Southeast Law Institute

Jeff Smith, Administrator of Trinity Christian Academy and Preschool, Oxford, Alabama

Danny J. Hubbard, Publisher and Author, Reveal Publishing

Scott Elliot, Director of Youth Ministries at Christ the King Lutheran Church

Dr. Tom Ford, Pastor, Grace Baptist Church and Ezekiel Academy Board Member

Col. Charles Orr, Christian Citizen Task Force, Whitesburg Baptist Church

Samuel J. McLure, The Adoption Law Firm

James McCaney, Jr. Senior Pastor, Victory Christian Fellowship Church

Maurice McCaney, Chancellor, Victory Christian Academy

Wanda McCaney, Director, Victory Christian Academy

Lorraine McCaney, Head Administrator, Victory Christian Academy

Mike Parsons, Director of Save Alabama’s Values and Education

Rev., Dr. John Killian, Pastor and Past President Alabama Baptist State Convention

McCaney Law Group, LLC

Denise Driskell, Senior Administrator of Pathways Academy

Robert M. Driskell, High School Administrator of Pathways Academy

Rev. Jerry Johnston, Associate Pastor, Trinity Baptist Oxford, Alabama

Michael Rippy, Lead Pastor, Evangel Church, Evangel Christian Preschool

 

 

 

 

 

HB277 / SB256 Must be Stopped!

SB236/HB277 – Sponsored by Senator Cam Ward and Representative Pebblin Warren, proposes to require church nurseries and religious childcare providers (daycares) to be licensed by the state Department of Human Resources as are all other such providers. Church daycares and nurseries have always been exempt from licensure, even though their workers must pass background checks. The First Amendment should send a bold statement to state legislators about the proper role of state and federal government. Their role IS NOT to regulate churches or their ministries. This House bill passed unanimously by voice vote in the Child and Senior Advocacy Committee.  Eagle Forum of Alabama strongly opposes SB236/HB277. This bill will allow the state to regulate Vacation Bible School, for example. It removes important religious liberty protections that currently protect Alabamians. This bill is about much more than simply licensing church daycares and nurseries, it is also about money.  Foundation grant money has been awarded here in Alabama to push for all Alabama daycares to be licensed.  The Alabama DHR was awarded $1.7 million to improve the quality of daycare in the state.  Their only answer to that is to license daycares in church which are now exempt, although such centers are statistically safer for children by far than licensed centers. Those involved in negotiating for changes to the bill have offered 5 changes that would deal with the issues brought up by proponents for all child care facilities but these were totally dismissed, giving credence to the fact that this is not about protecting children, but about money and control.

Dollars are flowing from the federal government in support of licensed daycare facilities. The more that are licensed, the more money. With federal dollars come federal control.  The bill says that in licensed church daycare facilities “no employee of the department (DHR) may infringe upon the ability of the center to teach or practice a religion.”  However, these words would not control mandates from the federal government, such as those on the state Pre-K program that say, “no part of the day may be religious in nature.”  If religious day care programs are required to be licensed, it is safe to assume that such mandates would follow.

Please contact your Representatives and Senators today as well as Senator Ward  and Rep. Warren immediately to let them know that you strongly oppose this bill. His email address is cam@camward.com, and office number is 334-242-7873. Representative Pebblin Warren’s email address is tiger9127@bellsouth.net . Her office number is 334-242-7734

Talking Points for SB236/HB277

  • Background check requirements already in place
  • Child abuse and neglect already outlawed in AL
  • This bill is about regulation and money, it is not about child safety

Problems with Governor Bentley’s Alabama Prison Transformation Act

Problems with the Governors $800MM plan:

·        It does not follow the Competitive Bid Law; authorizes No Bid Contracts.

O The competitive bid law is in place to protect taxpayers’ dollars and protect against coercion and collusion.  Competitively bidding all public works projects is the law in Alabama and it provides the best price with the job completed on time and brings transparency in the use of tax payers dollars. It’s the taxpayers’ method of comparative shoppingAny construction on prisons must be bid competitively  using sealed bids opened publicly.

·         The funding for this prison project is extremely concerning.

O The $800 Million Alabama Prison Transformation Initiative Act would ultimately cost at least $1.5 billion and would create a bond debt that Alabamians will be paying on for 30 years and in perpetuity if the Governor sees fit.  

O The prison bill calls for Gov. Robert Bentley [and future Governors] and two of his appointed cabinet members to have full authority—by statute—to not only borrow $800 million for his ambitious prison plans but to keep it from public review, thus giving the Governor carte blanche with no real oversight.  The use of a lease revenue bond will stop the public from voicing its opinion on borrowing the money while keeping the almost one billion dollars borrowed off the books and in the hands of a very small group.

·         It moves prisons out of the communities that have invested in them and rely on them for employment.

o The investments in infrastructure made by communities with prisons to sustain those prisons were leveraged based on the service provided to the prison system.  If they lose these prisons the debt service will still have to be paid by citizens through increased utility rates or local taxes.  These are the same citizens who will be losing their jobs. 

O The loss of direct and indirect jobs would create a negative economic impact on communities that is so significant that it would take many years to recover.

·         The enormous cost that will not solve the prison-overcrowding problem or health care problems.

O Sentencing reform passed in 2013 has already started reducing the inmate population from 27,000 before the reforms to 23,000 today. The Bentley plan would only accommodate a total of 16,000 inmates, and in five years the system will still be at 125% capacity. Why not just build one additional prison to specifically address the overcrowding needs?

O There are 4 prisons that were built after the 1990’s: Bullock, Ventress, Easterling, Bibb.  Bibb was built in 1998.  It is difficult to argue that these structures are in need of replacement.

O Why have we not already purchased the private Perry County facility which would hold 800 inmates and for which bond money was legislated in 2010 under Gov. Riley.  Almost 7 years later, nothing has been done to buy it and lower occupancy elsewhere.  This Perry County facility would hold 800 inmates.

O The Governor says the debt will be paid through savings by reducing the hours and numbers of correctional officers. However, the prisons are already severely short on correctional officers.    

O The immediate need is for increased expenditures on medical care and mental health care, not overcrowding.  This bill does not address these medical needs, yet this is the issue about which the courts have expressed concern.

 

Recommendations:

·         Place inmates in City and County jails to relieve immediate overcrowding.

·         Buy the Perry County Facility.

·         Make the necessary renovations to existing facilities and bid the work out.  Once the renovations are competitively bid, the price will probably be less than current projections.

·         If necessary, build one new facility following the competitive bid law.  It is the law.

 

 

 

 

 

Eagle Forum Of Alabama Strongly Supports Bill To Ban Assisted Suicide In Alabama

Contact your State Senator and State Representative now.  Tell them you support the Assisted Suicide Ban Act HB96 (Rep. Mack Butler) and its companion bill SB198 (Sen. Phil Williams).  House Information: (334) 242-7600  –  Senate Information: (334) 242-7800, to voice your concerns with your legislators NOW!

Ask them to pass this legislation to insure that Alabama protects life until natural death.  Alabama must not join the five states plus the District of Columbia who have already legalized assisted suicide and the other 21 states that are currently considering legislation to legalize “assisted suicide” which redefines the concept of medical good as never before.  Our state has long supported its commitment to protect and preserve all human life at every stage. As this legislation states, the state has an interest in protecting vulnerable groups, such as the impoverished, the elderly, and disabled persons from abuse, neglect, and mistakes.  The state also has an interest in protecting the integrity and ethics of the medical profession.

Assisted suicide laws clearly violate fundamental medical ethics. Without protections from assisted suicide in Alabama, the elderly, individuals with special needs, and the mentally ill will become targeted for assisted suicide as they have in other states.  Alabama is one of the few states that currently has no statute directly addressing assisted suicide.  The U. S. Supreme Court has upheld state bans on assisted suicide, and it is time for the Alabama Legislature to take action by passing the Assisted Suicide Ban Act.

In states that have legalized physician assisted suicide (PAS) there are few protections for those with mental health problems.  Even in Oregon and California, where the law calls for counseling where the physician thinks the patient may have psychiatric or psychological disorder or depression, less than 4% of those who received a prescription were referred to counseling.  Inadequate pain control was identified as a concern in only 1/4 to1/3 of the cases.  If the reason for the decision is not physical, it is safe to assume that more patients should have received professional counseling other than from their physician.  With such laws, there is nobody to hold the physician accountable.  The laws allow too much latitude for physicians to rely on their own opinions in their practices.  PHYSICIANS NEED TO HELP SUCH DISTURBED PATIENTS, NOT KILL THEM.

In a recent U. S. Senate hearing, Dr. G. Kevin Donovan, professor of pediatrics and director of clinical bioethics at Georgetown University, stated: “In medicine we know that what is permissible becomes habitual, and what is habitual becomes standard care, and what is [the] standard of care becomes obligatory.”  We must protect life at all stages and remember the oath doctors take to “first do no harm.”

Eagle Forum of Alabama Executive Director, Deborah Love’s recently published article addresses creation of State Longitudinal Data System

By Deborah Love, executive director of Eagle Forum of Alabama, she also was appointed to and served on the Alabama ESSA Implementation Committee on Data Collection and Early Learning sub-committees

http://www.al.com/opinion/index.ssf/2017/02/how_much_is_your_childs_privac.html

Justice Brandeis wrote, “the right to privacy is the right to be left alone.” Privacy is an essential aspect of a free society. Yet Representative Terri Collins is once again pushing a state longitudinal database bill in the Alabama legislature. A state longitudinal database is a centrally controlled database which collects and stores personally identifiable information on students. This centrally controlled database will track students throughout their lives and continuously consolidate personal data between multiple state agencies. While the bill has been renamed “Answers” this year it provides few. Instead it will give broad powers to what will be a newly created agency and advisory board with no accountability.

Though the Alabama Department of Labor has promised the bill does not allow the collection of private and personal student information, the bill itself contradicts that claim. Its collection and retention is clearly anticipated in the bill. The bill describes “security clearance requirements for individuals with access to personally identifiable information.” The bill goes further to describe who has direct access to this information. “Direct access to personally identifying information in the system shall be restricted to staff and authorized representatives of the office.”

Personally identifiable information could be a home address of a student or where they work. This means a government employee not involved with a child’s education on a local level will have access to a student’s geographic location on a daily basis. Data in the system will only go through a deidentification process if released to the public or researchers. This does not restrict the collection and retention of personally identifiable information within the system or among state agencies.

Information is personally identifiable because anyone can use this information and then identify the student by name. Personally identifiable information can be anything that identifies you as you. Aggregate data points combined can also become personally identifiable when combined in one central lo-cation. HB97 and its companion bill SB153 will combine information from ten state agencies in a central location and can potentially combine information from “any additional public agency or entity”.

The bill does not provide new state protection for student privacy; instead, the bill only punishes an actor merely for improperly sharing student data without the permission of the agency. The agency though will be collecting personally identifiable information on individual students. Government tracking of individual citizens including students is a violation of fundamental privacy rights. Senator Del Marsh and the Department of Labor claim that the information will be kept confidential. But this is a false promise as the bill only contains vague promises to create plans at a later date or internal policies with no outside accountability. HB97/SB153 acknowledges that breaches will occur as it instructs the advisory board to develop “plans for responding to security breaches.”

The philosophical foundation of HB97/ SB153 is that central planning works, that governments have the right to monitor the movements of individuals in addition to collecting unlimited information on private citizens throughout the course of their lives. These premises violate essential liberties that must be respected in a free society and violate the proper role of government in society. Human history has provided many examples of what types of government abuses result when this type of power is given to the government. If the government has the right to track and collect personal information through-out the course of an individual’s life, then there is no truly free citizen.

Only current state and Federal law are mentioned in HB97/SB153 as privacy protections; but the comprehensive Student and Parent Privacy Protection Bill was not passed in the last Alabama legislative session. In addition, the Alabama bills cite dependence on the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) which was passed in 1974. However, the Federal Department of Education gutted FERPA in December of 2011. On January 3, 2012, changes went into effect that allowed for the collection of student data by third parties. FERPA is outdated to address current privacy threats with the changes from emerging technology. Thus there is no state or federal law which protects the massive amount of student data that will be collected in this longitudinal data system.

At the first senate meeting on the bill this session the sponsor claimed the purpose of the bill was “to meet the demands of industry.” This vague purpose is focused subsidization of certain business interests and increasing power of unelected state agency heads. This alliance is for the mutual benefit of these special interests, but not for students. Parents and students should know that this bill allows and requires a centrally controlled data collection system to track students through the course of their lives and to collect unlimited personal information on students and potentially other citizens.

Alabamians, parents and eligible students must ask themselves how important their privacy is because it is about to be handed over to a state agency and an advisory board controlled by special interests.

Students, parents and private citizens were not allowed to speak at House and Senate meetings on the bills this week even though public hearings were requested. Yet multiple government agencies were allowed to speak in support of the bills.

Apparently for supporters of HB97/SB153 your child’s privacy means less than the misguided demands of big industry and bureaucrats.