by Cameron Smith
Summary: Amendment 4 proposes to eliminate school segregation language from section 256 of Alabama’s Constitution. Amendment 4 also would amend section 259 that directs all poll tax (prohibited under athe 24th amendment to the U.S. Constitution) revenues to fund public schools. Removing the poll tax language is a mere formality because schools cannot collect poll taxes; they are illegal.
After Alabamians voted to preserve racist language in their state Constitution, headlines nationwide gladly noted the state’s failure. For much of the nation, Alabama’s failure was simply confirmation of the latent racism they believe pervades Alabama.
If the majority of Alabamians who voted ‘no’ on Amendment 4 had actually done so for racially-motivated reasons, perhaps that perception would be justified. But the largest driver for the ‘no’ vote was a massive misinformation campaign launched by the Alabama Education Association (AEA).
Amendment 4’s failure had nothing to do with the right of Alabama’s children to a constitutionally guaranteed “liberal education.” Alabama has not guaranteed the right to a public education since 1956, and somehow, public education has gone on. AEA’s opposition to Amendment 4 was entirely about strengthening its ability to challenge the current constitutional provisions in court. After losing its litigation efforts in 2002 and again last year with Judge Lynwood Smith’s decision in the Lynch case, AEA realized the difficulty of challenging a constitutional provision it does not like without being able to allege racial discrimination.
In short, the AEA wanted to preserve as much of its ability to use racial animus as possible to shape education funding and tax policy through the courts, especially since it no longer has total control over the Alabama Legislature.
The AEA remains one of the most significant powerhouses in Alabama politics even with Republicans in charge. The AEA commands the votes of educators in Alabama who trust the AEA to take positions in their best interest.
Most of that power is derived from AEA’s ability to extract dues and political donations from its members. AEA cleared more than $15 million in membership dues according to their 2010 IRS form 990. Their A VOTE political action committee holds almost $3 million. Most importantly, every politician in Montgomery knows that the AEA has no problem using those resources to combat opponents.
For decades, the AEA has effectively dictated most public policy in Alabama and continues to stand directly in the way of needed education and state budgetary reforms.
With respect to Amendment 4, the AEA also stood in the way of tearing the vestiges of Alabama’s racist past from the highest authority in the state.
At the same time, the AEA’s misleading propaganda raised the specter of Amendment 4 undermining a non-existent right to public education, they conveniently left out the fact that nobody was actually denying children of any color a public education. No one was at the schoolhouse doors trying to block their entrance. In fact, if Amendment 4 had passed, nothing would have changed other than Alabama being another step away from a racist past.
The AEA and its supporters made sure that did not happen.
As a result, the defeat of Amendment 4 perpetuated the stereotype of Alabama as a racist state and gave Alabama another hurdle to clear in its efforts to change that image. Members of the AEA who have fought tirelessly against racial discrimination should think long and hard about the racial impact of their loyalty to AEA the next time this issue makes its way to the ballot.
Cameron Smith is Policy Director and General Counsel for the Alabama Policy Institute, an independent, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families, which are indispensable to a prosperous society.