AEA History: Milestones (1856-today)
Alabama Education Association was formed on July 24, 1856 in Selma by 46 men, led by William F. Perry, the first state superintendent of education, and Dr. L.C. Garland, president of the University of Alabama and the first AEA president. The Alabama Educational Journal, the predecessor of today’s Alabama School Journal, chronicled AEA’s first meeting, but it was short-lived.
The Alabama Educational Journal was revived and officially began publishing in October 1858 with a “Vol. 1, No. 1, and was edited by Noah K. Davis.
AEA’s functions and practically all public school activities were suspended during the Civil War.
The predominantly black Alabama State Teachers Association was formed April 6-7 at a meeting in Selma. AEA was revived on July 5 during a meeting in Birmingham when it was organized as the Alabama Teachers’ Educational Association. State school Superintendent Henry Clay Armstrong was named president of the newly reorganized association.
With support from the teachers’ group, the Legislature approved and voters ratified a constitutional amendment that allowed counties to levy an additional 3.0 mills property tax and school districts to levy another 3.0 mills after a countywide tax had been imposed.
ATEA elected its first female president, Cora Pearson of Florence.
ATEA membership reached the 2,500 mark.
When a new association constitution was adopted, the Alabama Teachers’ Educational Association’s named was changed to Alabama Education Association to avoid confusion with the ASTA. The new constitution also created the Delegate Assembly, which became the legislative body of the organization.
H.G. Dowling of Cullman County was named as AEA’s first full-time executive secretary. Under his leadership, membership topped 6,000 by 1924.
AEA helped make public education an issue in the 1926 gubernatorial campaign won by Bibb Graves. Under his administration, the Alabama Education Trust Fund was established.
The Legislature, with backing from AEA, approved bills, creating the Teachers’ Retirement System, teacher tenure, a statewide two percent sales tax for schools and legislation to allow school districts to make short-term loans against anticipated tax receipts to pay teacher salaries. Today, the TRS has nearly 230,000 active, retired or other former employees of Alabama’s public schools, two-year colleges and universities. The TRS has a current value of roughly $19 billion.
Alabama moved from a seven-month to an eight-month school term.
AEA led the effort for voter ratification of a statewide constitutional amendment that earmarked state income tax revenues for teachers’ salaries and extended the school year to nine months.
Open-house and dedication was held on AEA’s first building on Dexter Avenue, across from the state Department of Education and just a couple of hundred yards from the state Capitol.
With AEA support, voters in a statewide referendum increased the corporate income tax from three percent to five percent and hiked the state sales tax from three percent to four percent. The average teacher salary increased from $3,988 to more than $4,600 annually.
AEA President Annie Mae Turner of Union Springs became famous for a speech she never delivered at the AEA Convention. Turner’s speech, among other things, called for voting rights for blacks. When the news media printed excerpts from her prepared remarks, they were picked up all over the nation. She never delivered the speech because of objections from the white-male dominated leadership at AEA. In 1967, AEA presented Turner with a special human rights award.
The Alabama Education Association and the Alabama State Teachers Association merged, with Paul R. Hubbert as executive secretary of the AEA and Joe L. Reed as associate executive secretary.
AEA easily fought off Gov. George Wallace’s attempt to raid the Teachers’ Retirement System and won a two-year 10 percent pay raise for teachers.
AEA membership grew to 35,000 from the 29,000 at the time of the merger in 1969. In 1972, Hubbert brokered a politically charged incident in Demopolis prompted by one of his legislative adversaries, Rick Manley, a member of the local school board. Teachers were threatening to strike over their perception that Manley had politically mistreated popular school superintendent A.A. “Doc” Knight. After meetings with the Demopolis Education Association and the city council, the board voted to keep Knight.
A-VOTE, Alabama’s first major political action committee was formed by AEA. It allowed member donations to be used to build campaign funds over four-year election cycles. In addition, $50,000 was set aside to begin organizing support personnel. The numbers quickly grew from a few hundred to more than 25,000. Also education retirees were required to join the National Education Association, and AEA hired its first 16 UniServ Directors.
Despite a full-court press by Gov. George Wallace and support from Lt. Gov. Jere Beasley, the AEA fought off an attempt to divert 12 percent of the sales tax in the Education Trust Fund to the state General Fund for prisons, mental health, Medicaid and highways. AEA flexed its political muscles again in 1976, killing another diversion effort.
The AEA, led by Hubbert and Reed, helped reverse a decision by the Mobile County Board of School Commissioners to implement a controversial teacher competency test.
Hubbert, Reed, working with local teachers and support personnel, helped end a strike in Walker County over teacher jobs and large classroom sizes. Hubbert also successfully intervened on behalf of Choctaw County teachers to avert a 6 percent salary cut.
Parents in the city of Scottsboro, upset over the dismissals of teachers and support personnel by the superintendent, summoned Hubbert. A strike ensued, prompting a judge to enjoin picketing but not to order striking teachers back to work. The episode ended quickly after the superintendent resigned.
AEA, working closely with the administration of Gov. George Wallace, was able to win legislative passage of the Public Education Employees Health Insurance Plan (PEEHIP), the Fair Dismissal Act extending tenure to support personnel and postsecondary employees, back-to-back 15 percent pay raises, and a teacher evaluation plan written by classroom educators. AEA also won legislative approval of tenure protection for school support personnel and organized employees in the two-year college system.
Back-to-back pay raises won in the Legislature pushed Alabama teachers’ salaries to their highest ranking ever – 27th in the nation, just two steps off the national average.
With AEA backing, voters approved a constitutional amendment that gave constitutional protection to retirement funds.
A $5.2 million expansion and renovation of the old AEA headquarters building was completed. It tripled the size of the building from 12,200 square feet to 45,500 square feet.
The Alabama Education Retirees Association, founded in 1955, unified with the AEA to become the AEA’s retired division. The number of retired members grew from about 10,000 to roughly 25,000.
In that fiscal year, AEA was able to push through the Alabama Legislature a total pay raise for schoolteachers of 6.5 percent.
AEA’s support helped push through the Legislature a new Education Foundation Program that corrected longstanding inequities in state funding between rich and poor school districts. In addition, teachers got another pay hike of 8.5 percent
AEA established the Capital Survey Research Center (CSRC), the polling division of AEA.
The DROP program was created by the Legislature with the idea of retaining experienced teachers. Entrants had to be at least 55 years old and eligible for retirement. Monthly retirement payments made to DROP account with five percent employee contribution with interest accrued at four percent. Employees were required to remain in the program for at least three years, but no longer than five, and a lump sum or rollover was given at retirement.
Teachers received a pay raise of 3 percent.
For three straight fiscal years, Alabama teachers were rewarded with pay hikes totaling 18 percent. But it was the last pay raise due to the Great Recession that struck in 2008.
The DROP program was repealed by the new Republican-controlled Legislature. In December, Dr. Paul R. Hubbert, executive secretary of the AEA, and Dr. Joe L. Reed, associate executive secretary, announced their retirements, after growing membership of AEA from 21,000 in 1969 to more than 100,000 in 2011.
AEA led lobbying efforts in the Legislature to defeat initiatives to create charter schools in Alabama and constitutional amendments to divert Education Trust Fund money to the state’s General Fund. It also led the way in helping defeat another proposed constitutional amendment that would have removed language guaranteeing Alabama student’s right to a public education.
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