Reading, writing and rights: Why shouldn’t Alabama children have the right to an education?
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Oct 18, 2012 | 2775 views |  0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, is asking Alabamians to do something we should have done long ago — remove racial segregation references from out state Constitution.

Even though the offensive passages have long ago been rendered invalid by acts of Congress and rulings by federal courts, they are still there, an ever-present reminder of a past we long ago should have repudiated.

The passages are still there because in 2004, a slim majority voted to keep them in rather than take them out.

That really made us look good, didn’t it?

Sen. Orr and his allies want us to vote again. Only this time, something that was not in the proposal in 2004 is back. This time the proposal includes that “nothing in this Constitution shall be construed as creating or recognizing any right to education or training at public expense.”

Now, why would our Constitution deny our children the “right to education or training at public expense?” Well, because in 1956, when this was added to the state Constitution, white legislators were looking for ways to maintain segregation in the face of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. By saying that public financed education was not a “right,” legislators would be free to close the public schools rather than integrate them.

But that was 1956. Just what is wrong with today saying upfront that our children have a right to a publicly funded education?

Well, in 2004, reactionary Alabamians, led by current candidate for chief justice Roy Moore, raised fears that if education was a “right,” then federal courts might look at our underfunded schools, declare that we were denying our children their right to an education, and force us to spend more to educate our little ones.

Far fetched? Of course. But Roy Moore has made a career of raising far-fetched fears of federal courts intervening to make Alabamians do what we really should be doing on our own.

Like adequately funding our public schools.

The point, however, is that it was an ungrounded fear then and it is an ungrounded fear now, so if Sen. Orr really wanted to get rid of the segregationist language in our Constitution, then the denial of children the right to an education at public expense should also be removed.

This page sympathizes with Sen. Orr, who does not want to give the Moore crowd another reason to vote against removing the more obvious racist language. However, in placating that group, the senator has outraged another. The Alabama Democratic Conference, the most influential black political group in the state, is opposing the Orr plan because it does not remove the passage denying children an education at public expense. That clause, they correctly argue, is historically as racist as the others.

But is that reason enough to defeat the whole plan?

This page feels it is not.

Better to pass the Orr plan than return with another amendment that declares that our children have the right to an education at public expense. Then let the two sides present their respective cases and take it back to voters who, we hope, will let our children know that the people of Alabama recognize their right to an education paid for by the state.
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