The key thing to remember about the StudentsFirst report released recently, in which Alabama was one of 11 states to receive an F, came in a statement made by Andy Solon, the organization's Alabama director.
"It's our agenda, it's aggressive and certainly not a reflection on student achievement," he said.
The rating was based on three categories — elevate teaching, empower parents and spend wisely and govern well.
StudentsFirst is headed by Michelle Rhee, former head of Washington, D.C., schools. When she took over there in 2007, she implemented a controversial set of policies and… Rhee closed numerous schools and fired hundreds of teachers. … After three years, with her approval ratings falling even more dramatically than test scores were rising, she resigned and formed the lobbying reform organization StudentsFirst.
Rhee likes charter schools, which Alabama doesn't have. Put a mark in the minus column. Alabama rewards teachers monetarily for having advanced degrees, something Rhee doesn't like. Another mark in the minus column. Rhee believes states should have scholarship programs for low-income students "trapped in persistently failing public schools." Alabama doesn't. …
The StudentsFirst report can't be completely disregarded. Anytime observers from outside the established educational system evaluate that system, especially if they are qualified, and Rhee does have some credentials, it's worth listening to what they have to say. Some of it makes perfect sense and some of it doesn't. ...
... There may be some value to the report, but we certainly hope state officials keep their salt close at hand while studying it. They're going to need more than a few grains, we believe.
Alabama utility customers were done a considerable disservice recently when two members of the Public Service Commission rejected the third member's sensible call for a formal review of return rates for three of the state's largest utilities. These rates have been in place for as long as 30 years without formal review by the PSC.
That does not necessarily mean that the rates should be adjusted, but much has changed over the years and at the very least it makes sense for the PSC to revisit the rates in formal hearings. Commissioner Terry Dunn, to his credit, has been pushing the PSC to do that, but PSC President Twinkle Cavanaugh and Commissioner Jeremy Oden have balked at the idea.
The return on equity rates for Alabama Power Co., Alabama Gas Corp. and Mobile Gas long predate any of the commissioners. Dunn and Cavanaugh were elected in 2010, and Oden was appointed to the PSC late last year after Cavanaugh was elected president of the commission.
The Advertiser continues to support Dunn's call for formal hearings, rather than the informal conversations Cavanaugh and Oden say they favor.
Formal hearings are more like legal proceedings, conducted publicly under oath with cross-examination and expert testimony.
It is, of course, entirely possible that these rates of return which have been in effect for so long are still justified today, but surely there is nothing wrong with requiring some formal demonstration of that.
Letting rates remain unchanged and largely unexamined for years, even decades, is at best a dubious course for a regulatory body. ...