With the March 3rd vote on Amendment One now less than a week away, more and more people are speaking out in opposition. One of these is Dr. Joseph Dean, Emeritus dean of the McWhorter School of Pharmacy at Samford University. He is a former member of both the Shelby County school board and the Hoover City board. Here is his op-ed piece that appeared on AL.com:
“Alabama voters will make a decision next week that could fundamentally change the future of public schools – and not in a way that will benefit students or our state.
If voters approve, Amendment 1 will change the makeup of the state Board of Education. It will go from a board whose members are directly elected by the people of Alabama to a commission whose members are selected by one person — the governor of our state.
As someone who has devoted much of my life to education – including service on both elected and appointed local school boards – I oppose Amendment 1.
Supporters of the amendment say our state’s current school board – with eight members elected from geographic districts – is too political and that it has failed to create success for our children.
They say an appointed board will be less political and more effective. They point to many successful local school systems in Alabama, as well as many school systems in other states, that are governed by appointed boards.
Their views are based on flawed premises. Appointed boards don’t necessarily equate to school success. Education outcomes hinge on multiple factors, ranging from socioeconomic conditions to teacher training and community resources. While there are certainly examples of dysfunctional elected boards overseeing poor quality schools, research has not shown that executive “takeovers” save the day.
With all due respect to Gov. Kay Ivey, it’s foolish to presume that an elected governor is less political than an elected school board representing diverse districts.
To the extent the governor might be considered more insulated from politics, it’s not in a way that fosters accountability and public involvement.
Most of us do not have access to the governor. Most governors are surrounded by staff whose job it is to shield them from regular people.
Who has access and influence with the governor? Special interests and bigmoney donors.
According to the website FollowTheMoney.org, candidates for governor in Alabama raised $15.3 million during the 2018 election cycle. Those running for the four state school board seats on the 2018 ballot raised a combined $336,000. To put that in context, candidates for governor in 2018 raised 45 times more money than candidates for all four district school board seats combined.
Raising money for a statewide race is serious business that gives outsized power to those with the deepest pockets.
Yet, we are to believe that the governor can do a better job of sidestepping political considerations as she appoints an education commission that will hire a chief executive and oversee our state’s public schools. And that our elected state senators – also beholden to lobbyists and special interests — will be better stewards of public education in their role of confirming the governor’s selections.
A look at some of the big interests that support Amendment 1 gives you an idea of how this change will play out.
A big proponent is Alfa, which has worked ruthlessly and relentlessly for decades to keep property taxes low in Alabama. Their efforts have robbed the state of a fair and stable source of school revenue (a source that is a staple in most states). They not only have kept state property taxes among the lowest in the nation; they make it ridiculously difficult for local communities to increase their own property taxes for schools.
That’s because the big-money political interests are convinced that they can do this better than you.
It’s true that voters mess up sometimes. Alabamians have put people I would not have chosen on the state school board. They have also put people I would not have chosen in the governor’s office. At least in the case of the
state school boards, terms are staggered to ensure some continuity and to mitigate the impact of occasional bad choices.
In opposing Amendment 1, I am not defending our current school board, nor am I arguing that all Alabama schools are performing to the level they should be.
Too many of our children are not getting what they need at school. Too many struggle through K-12 and drop out along the way. Too many aren’t prepared for college or equipped with the skills for the workforce. These missed opportunities can have an impact that lasts a lifetime.
But the answer is not to strip regular Alabamians of their control and hand our Department of Education over to political interests that have continuously fought progressive policies that would have benefited our students and our schools.”