Alabama voters to decide whether to abolish elected school board
Published 1:19 pm Thursday, February 27, 2020
Alabama voters will decide next week whether to do away with the elected state school board and replace it with an appointed commission tasked with coming up with an alternative to Common Core curriculum standards.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has championed the change, called Amendment 1 on Tuesday’s ballot. Supporters say it will ensure education experts are making education policy decisions. Critics call it a power grab that would strip citizens of their ability to directly vote on those in charge of education.
The current State Board of Education includes eight members who are elected from districts, plus the governor, who serves as board president.
If approved by the voters, the amendment would have the governor appoint all nine members of the proposed Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education, including one from each of seven congressional districts and two at-large members. Once confirmed by the Alabama Senate, commission members would serve six-year staggered terms.
A state education secretary would be appointed by the commission, replacing the current superintendent of education, who was voted in by the state school board. The secretary also would have to be confirmed by the Senate.
Ivey is urging people to vote yes, arguing that Alabama’s continually low test scores are due in part to its system of education governance.
“I’d invite everybody that is concerned about their child’s education and the future of the state to get involved and be for something very positive that could improve education. Why would you not want to improve a system that is broken?” Ivey said in an interview this month.
The current system was put in place 50 years ago, after voters approved a change to the Alabama Constitution to switch to an elected board.
The Alabama Farmers’ Federation is supporting the amendment through a political action committee called Yes to the Best Education, which is running advertisements.
“Voters recognize that public K-12 schools are undeniably at the bottom of almost every national ranking. At the same time, instability has become the norm at the top of the Alabama State Department of Education, which has seen five state superintendents in the last four years,” Federation President Jimmy Parnell, who chairs the campaign, said in a statement.
Conservative groups have split on the measure. Eagle Forum of Alabama and the executive committee of the Alabama Republican Party are opposed. A GOP resolution approved this summer urged people to vote no and “retain our right to elect” school board members.
“It takes away our right to vote,” said Beck Gerritson, the Eagle Forum’s executive director. “We like to be able to have a say in who is going to represent us.”
Amendment 1 also is opposed by two Democratic groups, the Alabama New South Coalition and the Alabama Democratic Conference.
The proposal before voters also directs the new commission to come up with a replacement for Common Core, a set of curriculum standards and grade-level benchmarks that students must reach in math and English. The standards were developed by the National Governors Association and adopted by 40 states, but became a frequent target of Republicans after President Barack Obama’s administration pushed states to adopt them.
Gerritson said the amendment’s wording causes concern because it still requires a nationalized education standard. “It is enshrining national standards into our Constitution,” Gerritson said.