Virginia has turned Red from the top to the bottom. They recently elected a Republican governor, Republican lieutenant governor, and Republican attorney general.

Want to know why?

Mainly because their previous governor declared that parents don't matter. In a now-infamous gubernatorial debate, the challenger and eventual winner Glenn Youngkin stated, "I believe parents should be in charge of their kids' education."

Then incumbent Democrat governor Terry McAuliffe retorted, "I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach."

Absolutely incredible hubris from McAuliffe and absolutely the wrong thing to say in a heated election clouded by battles on masking and curriculum in school board rooms in his state. 

Alabama is Red already; we're the reddest of the Red. All of our statewide offices are held by Republicans. Yet, strangely, parents are being treated with similar disdain.

State School Superintendent Eric Mackey and others don't understand what Youngkin does: parents are the parent and the state isn't the parent. In fact, Mackey recently asserted that most of his concerns about legislation currently being debated about school choice are in regards to accountability.

When I read that sentence I thought, "Finally, the state school superintendent is going to accept some accountability for the huge drops in reading and math scores in the public schools he leads." But no, his main concern with a school choice bill was that state money (i.e.: parent-paid taxpayer dollars) going to nonpublic schools would lack what he sees as proper accountability to the state.

(Note: that's exactly why they're called private/nonpublic schools. They aren't and shouldn't be accountable to the state. Unlike public schools, private schools are (at least in theory) accountable to the stakeholders who support them. They shouldn't be governed by the state; the state shouldn't have any authority over their funding, their curriculum, their testing requirements, or their acceptance standards.) 

But that's just the opinion of the person who was appointed state superintendent after running a Montgomery lobbying group for other superintendents. I wondered, what does the Republican governor think about the fact that the public schools in the state have dropped to dead last since she's been in office? Apparently, not much; I haven't heard her publicly comment on it at all. Perhaps she should pay less attention to Biden and more attention to her role as the president of the State Board of Education.

What about the "Republican supermajority" (quotes intentional) of the Alabama State Legislature? Are they listening to students/parents? Or are they listening to the unelected 'educrats' and public employee unions? Are they hearing the voices of citizens asking for a way out for their children, or to the 44 lobbyists that the Alabama Education Association (AEA) has hired to work the halls of the legislature?

That answer seems abundantly clear. Republican legislators are taking record amounts of money from AEA for their campaigns; they have raked in over $1.5 million dollars in AEA direct PAC contributions since 2018. Some Republican legislators and advocates claim that today's AEA isn't the AEA of the past; that they've come around to be more politically neutral on issues since the passing of longtime leader and Democrat Party Chairman Paul Hubbert.

I don't buy it.

Repeatedly attempting to kill any and all education freedom bills is not neutral. Continually protecting state coffers over student success is not neutral. Loudly questioning the intentions and abilities of parents to make decisions for their own children is not neutral. Proclaiming that additional accountability is needed for those who want to opt out of public schools is not neutral. Publicly demanding that children and private citizens who reject their failing system be subject to additional governmental control is not neutral. Advocating for ever-increasing budgets and bureaucracies to prop up the system they personally benefit from is not neutral.

In years past, AEA and the legislature have argued that education in Alabama fails because education isn't "fully funded." Apparently, they thought that throwing more taxpayer dollars at the public school system would bring scores up. That seems to have been the wrong answer.

Alabama teachers make 15% more than the average Alabamian. Every single dollar of every single person's state income tax goes directly to teacher salaries. The last teacher pay raise passed 100 to one in the House. Despite record numbers of students exiting the system, Alabama will spend a record $7.7 billion taxpayer dollars on public education this year.

That's a $446 million increase over the previous year and the largest education budget in the state's history - except for last year and the year before and the year before that when it was also the largest education budget in the state's history. Alabama hasn't tightened the education belt since 2011; we rank third in the nation in per-pupil spending and our math scores couldn't be worse.

Alabama students lost academic ground in both reading and math according to recent National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) scores, known as the nation's report card. Alabama has Fs in the two subjects our kids were tested in. Alabama has dropped to dead last in math, 52nd in the nation (which sounds like a math joke but isn't). Our students have done so poorly in math that we're now officially behind every single other state AND Washington DC schools and schools run internationally by the Department of Defense.

There are 75 failing school districts in Alabama, but what the state superintendent and members of the legislature are really worried about is a lack of accountability in private schools? They question sincere parental attempts to get their kids out of a system they have funded to the hilt but is literally failing? Seems odd.

In politics, as in life, I've learned that when things seem odd there is usually a reason and the reason is usually power or money. Sometimes the reason is both power and money and this situation is no different.

Mackey, the teacher's union, the superintendents, and way too many members of the legislature make no bones about it. Their opposition to freedom in education is not about parents or teachers or even students: it's about the money. Either the money in their PAC or the money in their pockets. They aren't worried about school choice legislation because of academic performance or accountability of private schools, they are worried about destroying their piggybank by allowing others the ability to educate their own children outside the scope of their power.

It's a bit like when Bill Clinton's campaign proclaimed, "it's the economy, stupid."

It's the money, stupid. That's their concern - not reading, not math, not the state.

And not our kids.  

Stephanie Holden Smith is an experienced policy analyst, political commentator, and public speaker. Smith has worked and volunteered in Governmental Affairs in Alabama since 1997, including lobbying for a Fortune 500 company and serving as Deputy Director of Finance for the State of Alabama. She is currently the principal of Thatcher Coalition LLC. To contact Stephanie, please go to