What happens when you grab an electric fence? You get shocked.
Which is just the reaction educators felt across Alabama this week when they learned Governor Robert Bentley filled a vacancy on the State Board of Education with someone with no apparent credentials for the position.
As the news quickly spread I got calls and emails from one end of the state to the other. A superintendent said, “the storm clouds keep rolling in.” A local school board member said, “a sad day for Alabama.”
Bentley appointed 28-year old Matt Brown of Baldwin County to replace Al Thompson. Brown never attended public school, has stated that his children will not attend public schools and was head of the Educate Baldwin Now campaign that worked (successfully) to defeat an education tax referendum last March. He is also an opponent of Common Core, which is aligned with the Alabama College & Career standards.
The governor stated in a press release, “Matthew brings a unique perspective to the position.” He is certainly right about that. About like I (an avid Auburn grad and supporter) would do if appointed to the Board of Trustees at the University of Alabama.
The same press release quoted Brown as saying, “I look forward to working with families, teachers, local and state school board members, the legislature, and the Governor to ensure that our children are prepared to compete and be successful in Alabama and around the world.”
Considering that public schools are not good enough for his own children, that he opposes funding them adequately and that he opposes increasing the rigor of standard and curriculum, his statement is disingenuous at best.
There has been speculation for weeks that the governor was using this appointment as a bargaining chip with Senator Trip Pittman of Baldwin County, Chair of the Senate Finance & Taxation Education committee, in regards to help in the current special session that was called to shore up an ailing General Fund budget. Pittman was an ardent supporter of Brown for this seat.
If so, this is a sad, sad commentary on the state of politics in Alabama. The notion that elected officials would use school children as political pawns is unconscionable. But unfortunately, we’ve seen too much of this in the past few years, beginning with passage of the Alabama Accountability Act in 2014.
As we know, the governor is a dermatologist and there is a group known as the Alabama Dermatology Society. Would the governor nominate Matt Brown to serve as an officer with this group? From where I sit, he seems to have just as much experience to do this as he does to be on the State Board of Education.
In a few weeks more than 730,000 students will begin a new year in our public schools. Politicians will cheer them on and say they should be educated in the best schools possible. But when the school doors close behind these youngsters, we turn around and make decisions that are anything but supportive of them.