Why not defend our future?

Why not defend our future?

SONY DSCState House Republicans released their agenda last week – a list of 11 proposals under the headline “We Dare Defend Our Rights.”

They vowed to defend against “an ever-expanding and encroaching federal government, committed liberal activists, and entrenched special interests fighting to preserve the dysfunctional status quo.”

It is hard to feel the excitement and celebration of 2010 – the year Republicans took control of the state legislature from Democrats for the first time in over a century – when our state legislators are still preoccupied by the illusionary threat of our own nation. That was once the Democrats’ preoccupation.

Only two items on the Republican agenda deal with the state’s most pressing issue: education reform. One would give local school districts more flexibility and exempt them from certain state regulations, and the other vaguely commits to improving technology and equipment for career-technical education in high schools.

Given the poor performance of many Alabama school districts, it is astounding that the people most responsible for setting public policy in this state believe giving those districts even more autonomy will somehow compel them to improve. Career-tech education does need to be enhanced, but even the best technology and equipment won’t matter unless the state develops a comprehensive program that sets standards for and improves access to courses in a variety of fields.

That is exactly the type of state-based programming Republicans seem to be resisting. It is a surprise considering the success Gov. Bob Riley had with the Alabama Reading Initiative, a state-based reading program his administration spread to schools across Alabama with great results.

Republicans shouldn’t resist government programs out-of-hand, at any level, simply because they are government programs. New programs and policies are going to be needed if Republicans want to break the grip unions have over our public school system and prevent ineffective local leadership from bungling our children’s education. The Alabama Reading Initiative is an excellent example of a state-driven effort to improve reading proficiency among our students because disparate, local efforts proved inadequate. Republicans should be more aware than anyone else of the level of dysfunction that plagues state and local governments across Alabama, after decades of Democratic mismanagement, and they should champion the type of systematic reforms needed to put the state on a better course.

Instead of giving badly performing school districts more freedom to make bad decisions, force them to compete with private, community and faith-based groups to offer children a better education. Instead of buying new computers for career-tech classes, bring in industry experts and academics to determine what course of study career-tech students in different fields should be taught, and devise ways to assess their mastery of those courses.

Instead of adding more language to the state constitution to protect gun rights, look into reforms and programs that protect and encourage responsible gun ownership like safety courses and background checks. On the subject of guns and crime, Republicans could also begin a conversation about our alarming incarceration rate and how to harness the power of faith-based and community organizations to rehabilitate prisoners.

Sadly, Republicans in Alabama aren’t embracing any of these initiatives or proposing any innovative, thoughtful reforms in their place.

This is all the more sad because it is very different from what is taking place in many other states across the country, where Republican leaders aren’t simply resisting President Obama’s most intrusive federal programs and cutting state government. They are showing, through their work, alternatives to Obama’s policies. The president gave us the fiscal-cliff and a tax hike, while in Louisiana, Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal is attempting to eliminate all state income taxes. Just-departed Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed the most expansive school-choice legislation in the country before he left office, giving more parents the freedom to choose where their children attend school. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker successfully beat back union influences to save the state hundreds of millions of dollars, and that state now has a budget surplus. In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie has reduced the state tax burden and helped balance its long-term pension obligations.

These Republicans have done a lot of good for their states, and Republicans in Alabama could do a lot for ours. They can both do everything in their limited power to resist the president’s agenda and advance a compelling, innovative agenda of their own. Doing so would be of much greater service to the state than another year of divisive social issues and pointless grandstanding against the federal government.

Tray Smith is a senior majoring in journalism. His column runs weekly on Thursdays.

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