After a bit of drama between the State Board of Education and some miffed members of the legislature, the board met in a special session today (May 26) to pick 10 people to serve on the new Public Charter School Commission.
This action was mandated by a bill putting Alabama in the charter business earlier in the session. The Governor had eight nominees, the Lt. Governor had two, the Speaker of the House had six and the Senate Pro Tem had four. The state board was to make the final selection by picking 10 of the 20 names submitted.
However, the train ran off the tracks at the May 13 regular monthly meeting of the board when four of the seven members refused to vote, saying that they had not had enough time to do due diligence on the nominees, needed additional info, etc. The over-riding “burr under the saddle” of those who did not vote is the fact that the state board was not asked for input into the charter school legislation.
Upon hearing of what happened at the board meeting, certain legislators decided “they would show ’em” by threatening to cut the board out of the appointment process, or passing legislation to have an appointed state board, instead of an elected one.
Rep. Terri Collins, chair of the House Education Policy Committee quickly came up with a reworked charter bill that said instead of the Governor, Lt. Governor, Speaker of the House and Senate Pro Tem making nominations, they would make appointments and bypass the state board. Senate majority leader Del Marsh said he would introduce a bill to return the board to its pre-1969 configuration of being appointed, rather than elected.
Watching this unfold I couldn’t help but think of what mama would have done had I come home from the sixth grade one day and told her that the other kids were not playing fair and I just pitched a fit. Without doubt, once again I would have been instructed to “go get me a switch.” In fact, Ms. Collins’ hometown newspaper compared the whole episode as legislative “school-yard bullying.”
But the truth is that any educators waiting for members of this legislature to come to them seeking advice are likely waiting in vain. That has not been how they have operated to this point in time.
Today’s called session convened at noon with Governor Bentley, who by virtue of his office, serves as chair of the state board, in attendance. In addition, members Dr. Yvette Richardson, Cynthia McCarty, Jeff Newman and Mary Scott Hunter were present. Ella Bell, Betty Peters and Stephanie Bell were not there. State Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice stated that he had heard from each of them as to why they could not attend.
After the votes were counted, the members of this commission were announced to be: Thomas Rains of Montgomery; Sally Howell of Montgomery; Dr. Ed Richardson of Auburn; Mac Buttram of Cullman; Melinda McClendon of Dothan; Chad Fincher of Mobile; Dr. Henry Nelson of Birmingham; Terri Tomlinson of Mobile; Gloria Batts of Huntsville and Dr. Alma Freeman of Montgomery.
It is an interesting group. Two are lobbyists. Two are former legislators who were strong backers of the Alabama Accountability Act. One was the opponent of a sitting State Senator in the 2014 general election. One testified before a hearing that she opposes charters. One has written editorials supporting charters. One has been active in the Black Alliance for Educational Options, a strong supporter of charters.
The process was also interesting. The Governor not only nominated eight, but he was able to vote for four of them, plus six others. Because there is a vacancy on the board in District 1 (southwest Alabama) they had no voice in the process. (Al Thompson, former board member from this district resigned his seat to take a seat on the new post-secondary board. The governor has yet to name a replacement). Couple this with the absence of members from districts 2, 3 and 5 and the people in 40 our 67 counties had no voice in this process.
If the rest of Alabama’s entry into the charter school business is a rocky as this tiny step, it may be a bumpy ride.