Alabama voters to decide fate of state school board

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama voters will decide next year whether they want to abolish the elected state school board and replace it with a commission appointed by the governor.

The House of Representatives voted 78-21 Friday for the proposed constitutional amendment that will go before voters next year. Gov. Kay Ivey and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh championed the effort. Alabama is one of only a handful of states that have an elected school board.

“Our current system is simply not working. Statistics prove that. However, through this bold change, I am confident that Alabama will have a system that will work more effectively for our students and educators,” Ivey said in a statement.

Supporters of the measure cited the state’s historically low standardized test scores as evidence of the need for a change. Opposed lawmakers questioned exactly how an appointed board would accomplish that, and said other factors, such as education funding, were responsible.

“Alabama is one of the places in the world where hypocrisy and stupidity dwell so comfortably together,” Rep. Chris England, a Democrat from Tuscaloosa, said.

Three Republicans joined with some Democrats in opposing the measure.

“We don’t really know if this is going to help or not,” Republican Rep. Andrew Sorrell of Muscle Shoals said. “If citizens are the ones that elect the governor, certainly they are qualified to elect their own school board.”

The proposed new nine-member Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education would consist of members — including one from each congressional district — appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. The commission would appoint a state education secretary who would replace the state superintendent. The position would also have to be confirmed by the Senate.

The legislation says the governor “shall ensure” that the commission membership reflects the geographical, gender, and racial diversity of the public school enrollment. Members would serve six-year staggered terms.

Republican Rep. Bill Poole, who shepherded the bill in the House, said the goal is have education experts crafting the state’s education policies and making decisions related to K-12 schools.

The proposal would also potentially enable Ivey, who would make all of the initial appointments, to place a large stamp on education policy along with the Republican-dominated Alabama Senate who would confirm the appointments.

Poole argued the goal is to shift away from politics that come with elections.

“My goal is to not cast education policy in the light of Republican or Democrat, but rather put experienced knowledgeable people who understand education issues, who understand the challenges in Alabama and understand the things we need to accomplish in the state and let them make the decisions based upon those factors and not political factors,” Poole said.

The legislation also includes a directive for the new commission to set new study standards “in lieu of Common Core” curriculum standards.

Poole said it will be the commission’s decision to determine those. He said they could choose to keep the state’s current standards, which are derived from Common Core.

The Common Core standards are math and English benchmarks adopted by more than 40 states to describe what students should know after completing each grade. The standards were developed by the National Governors Association but became a frequent target of Republicans after the Obama administration pushed states to adopt them.

Alabamians will vote on the proposal on March 3, 2020, the same day as the presidential and U.S. Senate primaries.

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