In an effort to appear ethical, the Alabama legislature passed a new ethics law has made giving a teacher a gift card illegal just in time for the holidays.
Let’s make sure we understand this.
- We’re not going to pay our teachers a competitive salary to draw great ones away from other fields.
- We’re going to freeze their salaries.
- We’re going to actually cut their salaries by requiring a 2.5% increase in the employee contribution to the retirement plan.
- We’re going to dramatically increase their workload by requiring them to teach more students.
- We’re going to strip away their job security, and
- We’re going to insult their by telling you point blank that anyone, anyone at all, can do their job.
But that’s simply not enough.
In addition to all of this, we’re now going to make it a Class B Felony for them to accept any item that has value or may be resold from that 5 year old kindergartener in their class. The Advisory Opinion written by Mr. Matthew C. McDonald was release on October 5, 2011. You may download it from here.
This opinion says on page 9 that a public employee may not receive:
Any gift, benefit, favor, service, gratuity, tickets or passes to an entertainment, social or sporting event, unsecured loan, other than those loans and forbearances made in the ordinary course of business, reward, promise of future employment, or honoraria or other item of monetary value.
Thus, according to the opinion a public employee may receive:
Public officials/public employees may receive promotional items, items created for presentation, or other items of de minimus value.
However the legislature did not choose to place any limit on the meaning of “de minimus value” and the Advisory Opinion refused to do so as well.
An apple might still be acceptable just as long as it’s not one of those expensive, Honeycrisp apples
Now, perhaps you might not think this was specifically directed toward teachers. It does say, for example, say that a “public employee” may not receive these things. It doesn’t say, “teachers” may not them. And yet the law specifically claims that lobbyists may spend $25 on a meal and that principals (a person or business retaining a lobbyist) may spend $50 on a meal.
So they decided to offer themselves clear guidelines, but for teachers, any gift that my be determined as having any value, well, that’s off limits.
Somehow, I’d bet that the Iron Bowl stands will still be filled with our legislators who purchased tickets at face value this Saturday. (In case you didn’t know, face value of Alabama tickets range from $55 – $85 dollars. You can’t purchase Iron Bowl Tickets without buying Season Tickets which sell for $385, if you can actually get them. Right now, Iron Bowl tickets are selling for as much as $250 apiece on craigslist.)
So our ethical legislators can buy face value tickets for the Iron Bowl at a savings of almost $200 a ticket, but they’re worried about a $5.00 gift certificate to Target that would likely be used to purchase supplies for their classroom that the state refuses to purchase.
All the animals are equal, but some, especially the pigs, are more equal than others, aren’t they?
Let me be clear here. I’ve never had a teacher request a gift of any kind. I’ve never received any impression from a teacher that she (or he) expected anything but a “thank you” from a family. Teachers more so than most, and especially more so than our esteemed representatives, understand the importance of ethics when it comes to evaluating students in a fair and honest manner.
In short, this is an attempt by our representatives to give the appearance of ethical behavior while getting to, once again, punish their favorite whipping dog: those dedicated individuals who have committed their lives to educating our kids.
People in power fear education, for an uneducated populace is far easier to control than an educated one.
So, what can you do about this?
First, call or write your representative and let him (or her) know that gifts to teachers should be exempted from this law to at least $25 dollars. If a lobbyist can spend $25 dollars on a meal for a representative, shouldn’t a child’s family be able to show their thanks to a teacher at a similar level if they are able and willing?
Second, there’s a small loop-hole in the law that allows teachers to receive gifts from friends and family (nice of them to leave that in there, wasn’t it?) This clause may be found on page 17 of the Advisory Opinion. It reads:
One major inclusion in the revised Ethics Law is the exception for anything given through a friendly relationship. It must be an actual relationship and may not be a sham.Set out in the statute as one relevant factor is, did the friendship pre-exist the recipient’s status as a public employee or official. (17)
While I am not a lawyer, this says to me that so long as your friendship with the teacher “pre-exist[ed] the recipient’s status as a public employee or official” then it’s completely legal for you to purchase that person a gift.
So, until this law is changed, I would suggest that you consider giving your friends, who just happen to be teachers, a small gift in appreciation for being your friend.
So far at least, it’s still legal to give friends and family members gifts even if they are corrupting our youth by teaching them to ask questions.
This stupid regulation needs to be changed. Until it is, please make a point of telling your kids’ teachers, aides, principals and staff thank you for their unselfish commitment to educating your kids. Our teachers need our support.