Some of Alabama’s leading business groups and corporations have put up almost a half million dollars to support a state constitutional amendment that would replace the elected state Board of Education with a commission appointed by the governor.
Amendment 1, as the proposal is known, will appear on ballots when voters go to the polls Tuesday for Democratic and Republican primary elections.
A political action committee called Yes for the Best Education Committee has raised $471,000 in support of the proposed amendment. The PAC was registered with the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office on Feb. 13. Jimmy Parnell, president of ALFA, the Alabama Farmers Federation, is listed as chairman and treasurer.
The committee, in reports filed with the secretary of state last week, showed it has received contributions of $371,000, plus a $100,000 loan from ALFA on Feb. 14, the day after the PAC was registered.
The panel listed expenditures of $433,000 and an account balance of $38,000.
Yes for the Best Education is running television ads noting the poor performance of Alabama students in national rankings for reading and math education.
There apparently is no organization raising money for an effort to defeat the amendment, but the executive committee of the Alabama Republican Party and Eagle Forum of Alabama, a group that espouses conservative causes, have called for its defeat.
Amendment 1 would replace the current eight-member Board of Education with a nine-member Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education. Members would be appointed by the governor, subject to confirmation by the Alabama Senate; they would be limited to two six-year terms. The state superintendent of education would become the secretary of elementary and secondary education and would be appointed by the commission.
Additionally, the commission would be required to adopt education standards to replace the current Common Core standards. The new standards would “ensure nationwide consistency and the seamless transfer of students from within and outside the state,” according to a bill passed by the Legislature in 2019 to place the amendment on the March ballot.
Backing the Yes Vote
Among contributors to the Yes for the Best Education PAC are Protective Life Corp., Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, Scott Bridge Co., Great Southern Wood Preserving Inc. (owned by Jimmy Rane, the top contributor to Ivey’s campaign for governor in 2018), and state associations of farmers, automobile dealers, Realtors, manufacturers, truckers, retailers and the forestry industry.
Parnell, the ALFA president, said in an editorial distributed by the 360,000-member farmers’ group that Alabama public schools ranked 52nd in math and 49th in reading.
“Our current system is not working,” he wrote. “In Alabama, we’re used to winning, but in education, the state is consistently dead last. We wouldn’t tolerate this kind of performance from our coaches or business leaders, and we must not settle for mediocrity when it comes to our children’s future.”
“Amendment 1 gets politicians off the board and replaces them with nine commission members who will bring focus, innovation and accountability to Alabama’s K-12 education system,” Parnell wrote.
Urging the Right to Vote
Opponents of the proposal object to the idea of removing selection of the education panel’s members from the hands of voters.
The state GOP executive committee adopted a resolution urging defeat of the amendment and saying the party “stands for the right of Alabamians to vote for their representative to this important body, and to retain their right to choose what is taught in our classrooms to our students rather than to subjugate that choice to national standards.”
Eagle Forum issued a similar statement.
“The amendment violates a core political principle: It takes away our right to vote,” the group said in a statement earlier this month. It added, “Parents will lose direct control over the education of their children.”
Eagle Forum also objected to the section of the amendment requiring that “course of study standards ensure nationwide consistency and the seamless transfer of students from within and outside of the state, in lieu or common core.”
“This is misleading since the only standards that ensure ‘nationwide consistency’ are standards based upon Common Core,” the Eagle Forum statement said. “To force Alabama to use only national standards removes our right to decide what’s best for Alabama students.”
Here is a list of contributors to Yes for the Best Education PAC:
$100,000: Alabama Farmers Federation, Montgomery (loan); Great Southern Wood Preserving Inc., Abbeville.
$50,000: Alabama Association of Realtors Inc., Montgomery; Manufacture Alabama, Montgomery.
$25,000: Alabama Forestry Association, Montgomery; Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, Birmingham; Cunningham Bounds LLC, Mobile; Protective Life Corp., Birmingham.
$10,000: Millennium Health Services Inc., Tuscaloosa; NHS Management, Tuscaloosa; Northport Health Services Inc., Tuscaloosa; Northport Holding LLC, Tuscaloosa; Senior Care Pharmacy Inc., Tuscaloosa.
$5,000: Alabama Automobile Dealers Association, Montgomery; Alabama Retail Association, Montgomery; Alabama Trucking Association Inc., Montgomery.
$1,000: Abramson LLC, Birmingham; Batey & Sanders Inc., Gadsden; Dunn Construction, Birmingham; H.O. Weaver & Sons Inc., Mobile; Scott Bridge Co. Inc., Opelika; Ozark Striping Co. Inc., Ozark.