After wading through human political choices on March 3, Alabama voters also will decide whether the Alabama Board of Education remains an elected or becomes a politically appointed board by voting on constitutional amendment 1.
Last year, the Legislature passed two bills sponsored by state Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, to put the measure on the March ballot. If voters approve the amendment, it will become law.
If approved, the law would do three things:
- It would rename the State Board of Education to the Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education with commission members appointed for up two terms by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate.
- It would change the name of the state superintendent of education to secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education.
- It would require the new education commission to adopt education standards in place of Common Core. The proposed standards “ensure nationwide consistency and the seamless transfer of students from within and outside the state,” according to the bill.
Common Core is made up of federal standards adopted by states to help American high school graduates compete for 21st century jobs. It brought about new tests, new textbooks and new teaching methods. Some argued it brought about teaching for testing.
The Alabama Board of Education adopted the standards in 2010, and they were fully implemented in the 2013-14 school year.
The standards had been adopted by 41 states, but earlier this week (feb. 12) the Florida State Board of Education dumped Common Core and replaced it with new standards for language arts and math.
A federally funded study released last April found that states that changed their standards most dramatically by adopting the Common Core didn’t outpace other states on federal National Assessment of Educational Progress exams.
Alabama Board of Education Pro Tem Jackie Zeigler said the proposed law would not remove Common Core standards and “will actually lock Alabama constitutionally into nationwide consistency, which means national standards, which is Common Core standards.”
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said the proposed law would improve education in the state. The state Senate approved the two bills that make up the amendment on a 30-0 bipartisan vote last year. It then passed the House of Representatives.
The bill also enables the governor to appoint a team of local educators and other officials to advise the new commission.
Alabama ranks at the very bottom of nationwide education surveys done by the National Association of School Boards, U.S. News and World Reports and the Cato Institute, among others.
Marsh said the two bills are intended to get the state’s education programs moving in the right directions. The amendment, if approved, would require the geographical, gender and racial diversity of the proposed nine-member commission to reflect the public school system in Alabama.
Marsh said that, using current population information, the state school board, which now has two black members, would have three.
Members of the proposed education commission would have staggered terms of six years and be limited to serving two terms.
The commission would include at least one member from each of the state’s seven congressional districts.
There are no term limits for the present nine-member state board, and eight members are elected by district. The governor serves as the ninth member.
State board member Stephanie Bell said the amendment proposes taking away representation.
“Any time the voters have an opportunity to actually select their representatives, I think we need to preserve that because representation is a part of our government,” said Bell, a board member since 1994.
During a state board meeting Feb. 13, Bell predicted chaos if the amendment passes. “And if you think we already have problems in education, they’re going to be much greater,” she said.
Board member Dr. Wayne Reynolds said he likely will sue if the amendment passes and he is not among the appointees to the board.
“If I’m a constitutional officer elected to serve through 2022 and there is a constitutional amendment that says I’m removed, and the governor chooses not to appoint me, that is a point that I would litigate,” he said.
Zeigler, R-Mobile, has opposed the amendment since the two bills calling for the referendum were passed by the state Senate last year.
She said she is concerned that voters will only read the beginning of the proposed amendment and think it is only to rename the state board of education. Zeigler took her concern about the verbiage of the amendment to the state Fair Ballot Commission last fall. She lost.
“It was a long shot, but I felt we needed to do everything possible. People need to know what all the proposal encompasses,” she said, “That is how I got started, and it has taken on a life of its own.”
Zeigler, elected to the board in 2016, has a Facebook page titled “Vote No on CA 1,” which lists statewide meetings about the amendment and reasons for its defeat.
“It is an issue of appointed versus elected,” she said. “How dare someone try to take away the right of the people to vote for elected officials.
“The people elected the legislators, but then they say the school board is inept and should not be elected.”
Zeigler said she is not trying to protect her job. “Any time there is a push or attempt to take away the vote of the people, I have to be adamant and outspoken.”
The state board of education was appointed until 1975, the year members were reinstated as constitutional officers, Zeigler said. “You just can’t take it away on a whim.
“I believe in the democratic process, but i feel we need to be honest and forthright in what is being asked of us,” Zeigler said.