If there was ever any doubt that the state board of education has friends in the legislature, they were erased today when the House voted 78-21 for an appointed, instead of elected, state board. The Senate had voted earlier 30-0 on the same legislation.
For this to happen requires a constitutional amendment, the public will vote on the proposal during the 2020 presidential election next March. The fact that of the 129 total votes cast on this bill, only 16 percent voted to keep an elected board, sends a loud and clear message of how representatives and senators perceive the present state of education.
There is little doubt that the way the charter school commission has mis-handled the Washington County charter school situation played a significant role in this perception.
Ironically, though the charter school commission is a classic example of what happens when an appointed body has authority, in the minds of most lawmakers, anything dealing with education is viewed as one big mess. Regardless of who created it. And in the case of the charter commission, it is a creation of the legislature who passed a charter law setting up the commission in 2015.
However, lawmakers I have talked to blame the state school board and state superintendent Eric Mackey for not stepping up to hold the commission accountable for its actions.
While it can be argued that the legislative view is not accurate, at this point such an argument is meaningless.
Under this legislation, the governor would appoint the state school board. To her credit, Governor Kay Ivey has taken her role as chair of the state board seriously. She presides over the majority of board meetings and has not been shy about making her voice heard. However, she is the exception, not the rule.
To see the perils on putting the board in the hands of the governor, you only have to recall Governor Robert Bentley. When Mike Sentance was selected as state superintendent in 2016, it was Bentley who cast the deciding fifth vote for him. Bentley was fixated on the fact that Sentance was from Massachusetts and since they had the nation’s top fourth-grade math scores, Sentance would somehow magically turn Alabama into Massachusetts with a drawl.
We all know how that exercise in madness worked out. Sentance was a disaster from day one and lasted just a year before heading home to the Bay State.
Nor can we forget that it was the same Robert Bentley who picked Matt Brown from Baldwin County to fill a vacancy on the state board. Someone who had just played a key role in making sure a vote to increase funding for Baldwin County schools was defeated. Someone who never attended public schools and said his children would not either. And someone who was easily defeated in 2016 in spite of getting major financial support form the Business Council of Alabama.
I have no clue how the vote will go next March. No doubt there will be strong cases made for both an elected and an appointed board.
In the meantime, I offer this advice to my friends now serving on the school board. Be proactive. Members of the charter commission board are nominated by the governor, lt. governor, speaker of the house and president pro tem of the senate. They submit two nominations to the state school board for each slot to be filled. The state board makes the final selection.
When at full strength, the charter commission has 10 members. (One member resigned in March and that seat is vacant.) Five of the 10 have terms that expire today, May 31, 2019. Within the next few weeks, the governor, speaker of the house and president pro tem of the senate (the lt. governor’s slot was filled May 9) will send you their nominees to serve on this board. Even though all five members just mentioned can be reappointed, the appointing official must send at least two names to be considered.
Judging from what has come to light in recent months, we desperately need new blood on the charter school commission. Please show the people of Alabama that you want to fix our problems and begin by selecting new charter commission board members.