With the first 700 responses to our latest survey now in, it’s time to see what folks are saying about the March 3 vote to change from an elected state school board to an appointed one.
Some 95 percent say they will vote NO on this amendment. (When we asked the same question in a July survey, 89 percent said no.)
If this constitutional amendment passes, the governor will appoint nine members to a commission known as the Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education. Members will serve a six-year term and can not serve more than two terms. One member will be appointed from each of the present school board districts. They will appoint a secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education.
However, all appointments by the governor must be confirmed by the state senate. So in reality, the senate will call the shots.
Alabama had an appointed board until voters passed an amendment in 1969 to switch from appointed to elected. Consensus was that an appointed board only answered to the appointing authority (governor) and local voters and school systems had little input into education policy.
Obviously those who answered the survey are not interested in returning to a system once considered “failing.”
But before digging deeper, let’s look at who responded.
As might be expected, these 700 have close ties to public education. Retired educators made up 29 percent of responses, teachers were 30 percent and those who work for public school systems, but are not teachers, were 30 percent. And 53 percent have either children or grandchildren in public schools.
When it comes to political affiliation, 37 percent are Republicans, 37 percent are Independents and 26 percent are Democrats. Females were 64 percent of those who took the survey, 83 percent were Caucasian, 38 percent were from age 36 to 55 and 40 percent were from 56 to 70.
Why did those who will vote no do so? Some 23 percent say they do not want to give up their right to vote, while 70 percent say they do not trust the state senate to make good choices about who should be appointed to the state school board.
This distrust of the legislature is intense. When asked to give the legislature a letter grade of A-F, 71 percent handed out Ds and Fs. Only 21 percent gave them a C. And distrust of senate majority leader Del Marsh is even more intense. Some 93 percent say they have very little confidence in Marsh to do what is best for public schools.
No doubt this comes from his record since taking control of the senate in 2011. For example, he was the sponsor of the Alabama Accountability Act which has now diverted more than $150 million from the Education Trust Fund to give scholarships to students attending private schools, he sponsored the charter school law of 2015 which has led to major problems with charter schools in Montgomery and Washington County and he supported the 2012 law giving a letter grade to schools which is considered worthless by most educators.
While critics of our public schools claim educators are simply wanting to protect the “status quo,” this survey says that is not the case. For example, 61 percent believe education is going in the wrong direction. But they place the blame for this on education policy passed by the legislature, not on educators.
As we have pointed out before, the vote on March 3 is really more about how the public feels about the legislature and their too-often misguided attempts to pass unreasonable education policy, than it is about whether we should have an elected or an appointed school board. The disconnect between those in the statehouse and those in classrooms is about as wide as the Grand Canyon.
As long as this is the case, we will never have meaningful progress in Alabama. Until some folks on goat hill decide to try to build some bridges instead of burning them, the 700,000 students in our public schools will be the ones who pay the price.
A great number of those who will vote no on this amendment are the very people critics of public schools claim to represent. White, female and Republican. There are 27 Republican senators in Alabama. None of them are female. All 27 voted to support Del Marsh’s call for an appointed school board.
There are more female voters in Alabama than male. It appears that the Republican supermajority is largely out of sync with this voting bloc.