The March 3rd vote on Amendment One, that will switch Alabama to an appointed state school board if approved, is not about education. It is about control. The old-fashioned kind that is fueled by lots and lots of money.
How else do you explain that special interests, which have shown little interest in public education, have raised $446,000 to support a “yes” vote?
If approved, Amendment One will take away the right of the people of the state to elect their state school board and instead, allow the state senate to have the final say in who sits on the board and who is hired as state school superintendent.
Proponents of this amendment never mention that it will disenfranchise voters. Instead, they say that Alabama will join a list of states with an appointed board. But again, they don’t tell the whole truth which is that Amendment One would make Alabama the ONLY state in the U.S. to allow legislators to have the final say in who controls our public schools.
We have had an elected board since voters approved an amendment in 1969 to go from an appointed to an elected board. Now some of the major special interest groups in the state want to go back to a system once considered a failure.
Folks like the Alabama Farmers Federation. which is coordinating the campaign, and Great Southern Wood have contributed $100,000 each. Manufacture Alabama and the Alabama Association of Realtors gave $50,000. Blue Cross/Blue Shield, the Alabama Forestry Association and the plaintiffs law firm of Cunningham Bounds LLC added $25,000 each. Millennium Health Services, NHS Management LLC, Northport Health Services, Northport Holding LLC and Senior Care Pharmacy gave $10,000.
However, the education community is staunchly opposed to Amendment One.
Because since the Republican supermajority took control of the legislature in 2010, public education has been under attack.
Just look at the record.
Begin with the A-F school report card bill passed in 2012. If this bill serves a useful purpose, I have yet to find a decent educator who knows what it is. It has put emphasis on devoting too much attention to what is being tested, rather than what a child may need to truly be educated.
In 2013 we passed the tax break bill dubiously called the Alabama Accountability Act that has now diverted $155 million from the Education Trust Fund to give a few thousand students scholarships to private schools and done precious little to help our most challenged students.
And in 2015 we passed a charter school law that has ignored accountability, winked at provisions of the law itself and created an on-going disaster in Washington County.
If Alabama education has had a jewel in its crown, it is the Alabama Reading Imitative started 20 years ago. Its success attracted attention throughout the country. Even Massachusetts, considered by most to be among the very best school systems in the nation, came to Alabama to check out ARI.
The 2009 Education Trust Fund had $64 million designated for ARI. But by 2018 it was $41 million–a cut of 35 percent.
And while we hear a lot of talk about teacher shortages, what did the supermajority do? They cut benefits for new teachers.
Now special interests with deep pockets want us to ignore all of this. They want us to give up our right to vote while they try to get the best school board money can buy.
Alabama should vote NO on Amendment One. Tell the special interests our kids are not for sale.
Editor’s note: Earlier this week the Coffee County school board passed the followwing resolution:
Resolution Recommending “No” Vote On Amendment One
Whereas, Alabama voters will be asked to approve or disapprove Amendment One during the Presidential primary of March 3, 2020, and
Whereas, a Yes vote will take away the right of Alabama citizens to vote for members of the state board of education and allow the Governor and members of the state senate to hand-pick board members, and
Whereas, this board would also select a “Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education,” and
Whereas, the citizens of Alabama approved a constitutional amendment in 1969 to eliminate an appointed state school board after extensive study showed that such a board had serious limitations, and
Whereas, an appointed board would not answer to citizens, local school boards or local education administrators, but instead, to their appointing authority, and
Whereas, the approval of Amendment One would deny the right to vote to elect the state board of education to all citizens of the state:
Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the Coffee County Board of Education strongly urges all citizens of our county to vote against Amendment One and reject this attempt to deny our citizens the right to elect their representatives on the state board of education.
Since I hit the ripe old age of 21 in 1964, Alabama has had 10 governors. George Wallace, Lurleen Wallace, Albert Brewer, Fob James, Guy Hunt, Jim Folsom, Jr., Don Siegelman, Bob Riley, Robert Bentley and now Kay Ivey.
Of those who have completed their time in office, Decatur’s Albert Brewer was clearly the cream of the crop, even though he served just less than three years, moving from lt. governor to governor in May 1968 when Lurleen Wallace died in office.
(He ran for governor in 1970 against George Wallace. Brewer lead the Democratic primary, but Wallace unleashed the hounds of hell on him in the runoff and won 51.5 percent to 48.5 percent.)
Brewer was a moderate, especially when it came to race relations. He was a rising star, being elected to the House of Representatives at age 26 and lt. governor at 38. He was progressive, intelligent and, above all, decent. I immediately think of Atticus Finch when I think of Brewer.
He was also totally committed to public education, even at this very tumultuous time when Alabama was wrestling with desegregation. The state created an Education Study Commission in 1967. Lurleen Wallace picked Auburn University President Harry Philpott to chair this effort. When Brewer became governor he made the work of this commission one of his priorities.
The final report was released early in 1969 and Brewer called a special session of the legislature for April, just prior to their regular session. There were actually three task force groups that looked at “Role & Scope,” “Financing” and “Administrative.” These were combined into a final report.
At that time, state board members were appointed by the governor and the state superintendent was elected. The Administrative task force devoted considerable discussion to this process, frequently talking about “fragmentation” and “accountability.” They felt the appointed board was not accountable to the public and that the superintendent was not accountable to the board.
This report says, “This commission, however, supports the position taken by virtually all professional education organizations in the state that have already emphasized that the only true solution to continuity in education leadership is an appointed superintendent by an elected state board of education.”
“There is general agreement among those who study the field that it would be most desirable and most consistent with the American philosophy to have boards of education elected by the people for staggered terms of office.”
Consequently, the final report of this task force recommended that the constitution be changed so that the state board was elected and the superintendent appointed.
However, the final report of the entire task force said, “The commission recommends appointment of the state board of education and that necessary legislation be enacted to establish the following procedure for the selection of the member of the state board of education.”
It then went on to recommend that a screening committee made up of the president of the state senior college association, president of the state junior college association, present of the state school board, chief justice of the supreme court, speaker of the house, lt. governor, president of the Alabama Education Association and president of the Alabama State Teachers Association would recommend three people to the governor for each slot on the state board. The governor would select one of these three.
However, in his message to the special session, Brewer, who had a 70 percent approval rating at the time, said, “We propose legislation to provide for the election of the state board of education and appointment of the state superintendent.”
Legislation passed during the special session put this process in place. This constitutional amendment was approved on Dec. 9, 1969 by a vote of 54 percent to 46 percent. While only 28 counties voted in favor, it passed overwhelmingly in Jefferson, Madison, Mobile and Montgomery counties by a 63-37 margin.
And if Albert Brewer were still alive and voting on March 3, there is no doubt he would vote NO.
Editor’s note: There was also an education task force in 1959. It also recommended that we have an elected state board, rather than an appointed one.
“Amendment 1 proposes to amend the state’s constitution to replace the state’s elected school board with a board made up of appointees, chosen by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate.
Proponents say this will give the board stability and help improve education.
What we see, however, is yet another move to diminish the power of voters and centralize power in the governor’s mansion. No one can deny Alabama’s education system needs improvement, but we doubt this move will deliver improvement.
True, the state went through three education superintendents in rapid succession because of infighting among state school board members, but the board members behind that are no longer in office. The current political process did its job.
As it is, the state school board gives Alabama parents the most direct say possible in the shape of the state’s school system, without the governor and the Legislature acting as middlemen.
Changing the state school board is no substitute for what schools really need: proper funding and as much local control as possible within the bounds of civil rights law.
For that reason, and for keeping power with voters, we recommend voting “no” on Statewide Amendment No. 1.”
Jacqueline Brooks is superintendent of the Macon County school system. Below is a letter from her that relates to her background as an African-American and her family’s struggles for the right to vote. This is a powerful statement.
“Dear Citizens, Friends, Family, and Colleagues,
I write this letter as the great, great-granddaughter of Peter Austin, a slave on a Georgia plantation, who ran away to fight with the Union army for me to be free and to live in a democracy. I write this letter to you as the great-granddaughter of Willie Moore, who thought he had the right to vote but was denied many times because of polling taxes and polling exams. I write this letter to you as the granddaughter of Willie Lee Moore Austin who was born in 1920, the same year the women’s suffrage movement peaked; the grandmother who took me with her when she went behind the curtain to vote; the grandmother who never missed a primary, special or general election no matter the weather or the cost of her fare.
I write this letter as one who will fight to the death for the right to vote, quite frankly because it is what democracy stands for; it is what was instilled in me, and it is my right.
With that, I exclaim loudly and proudly NO to Amendment One.
As a superintendent, parent of two public school children, and a citizen, I can confidently say that the concerns about educational improvement in Alabama are near and dear to all of us. They were of concern in the ’60s with separate but equal; they were of concern in the ’70s with white flight; they were of concern in the ’80s with the crack epidemic; they were of concern in the ’90s with the whole language approach, and they are of concern now, but I assure you that taking away the right to vote is not the way to address school concerns.
As stated by Superintendent Howard Clark, Amendment One proclaims it will repeal “Common Core” because the NAEP scores for Alabama are the lowest in the nation. They are not the lowest in the Nation but have been in the bottom quartile since the existence of NAEP, but more importantly, Alabama’s NAEP scores are commiserate with Alabama’s per pupil spending on education. Let’s address the real issue!
Amendment One is designed to remove our right to vote for the person who represents us on the state board of education and to allow the political appointment of a commissioner of education who may not even be an educator. With my ancestors’ fight for the right to vote undergirding me and my proclivity for democracy guiding me, I cannot support an amendment that takes away voting rights in any form or fashion. I agree that we need improvement in Alabama’s education. We can start with a change to the 1901 Alabama Constitution that still states: separate schools shall be provided for white and colored children, and no child of either race shall be permitted to attend a school of the other race.
I urge you to vote No to Amendment One on March 3, 2020.
Dr. Jacqueline Brooks
Macon County Schools Superintendent, Mother, Citizen”
A few days ago we told you that a handful of special interests had raised $225,000 to fuel a campaign to get Amendment One passed. But as of Feb. 24, the Secretary of State’s web site shows this has now grown to $446,000.
Why are these people trying to buy a new state school board? Why are they trying to take away the right for Alabama citizens to vote on who serves on a public board?
It’s all about control. Plain and simple.
If Amendment One passes the governor will appoint school board members. BUT they must be confirmed by the state senate. And who funds the campaigns of state senators? The same special interests trying to pass this amendment.
It’s a sweet little deal. Who cares if the voices of citizens are cut out of the equation? All they do is complicate things any way. For goodness sake, they might actually want to do what is best for students attending public schools. Perish the thought.
My friends at the Alabama Farmers Federation are orchestrating this campaign. They contributed $100,000 to get things rolling. Great Southern Wood in Abbeville also put in $100,000.
Manufacture Alabama gave $50,000, as did the Alabama Association of Realtors.
The Alabama Forestry Association came up with $25,000. So did Blue Cross Blue Sheld and the plaintiff law firm of Cunningham Bounds LLC. Chipping in $10,000 were Millennium Health Services, NHS Management LLC, Northport Health Services, Northport Holding LLC and Senior Care Pharmacy. (Since these five have the same address in Tuscaloosa, they are obviously connected.)
The Alabama Retail Association, Alabama Trucking Association and Automobile Dealers Association each gave $5,000.
Six companies involved in road building and construction gave $1,000 each: Ozark Striping Company, Abramson LLC, Dunn Construction, H. O. Weaver & sons, Batey & Sanders and Scott Bridge Company.
Alabama should vote NO on Amendment One. Tell the special interests our kids are not for sale.