Editor’s note: The following article was first posted last November. It is a look at why we went from an appointed state school board to an elected one. It is a history lesson that bears repeating.
So the legislature wants us to vote on March 3 to switch from an elected state school board to an appointed one. But you have to wonder how many supporters of this change know that we once had an appointed state board that was deemed to be failing us–so we changed to what we have now.
Why did we change?
To put more control of education in the hands of voters across the state and to eliminate too much politics in decisions made as to how to run education. In other words, we lost confidence in a hand-picked state school board–which is exactly what senate majority leader Del Marsh now wants.
The legislature created the Alabama Education Study Commission in 1967. Governor Lurleen Wallace appointed Auburn University president Harry Philpott to chair this group. When Albert Brewer became governor on May 7, 1968 he made the work of this commission one of his top priorities.
This report was released on Jan. 16, 1969. Part of this effort was two days of public hearings in Montgomery in November 1968. Among the many recommendations was to go from an elected state school superintendent and appointed state board to an elected state board who would appoint the superintendent.
It was reasoned that an elected board would be more responsive to voters–rather than to a single appointing authority–and that an appointed superintendent could devote full time to education, instead of constantly campaigning to keep their office.
The appointed board served six-year terms and was appointed by the governor.
Governor Brewer called a special session of the legislature in May 1969 to deal with study commission recommendations. Part of his “call” for the special session was, “Legislation to provide for the selection and qualifications of state superintendent of education, local superintendents of education, state board of education and local boards of education.”
Such legislation was passed and an election to vote on this, and a number of other issues, was held on Dec. 9, 1969.
The amendment to switch from appointed to elected passed with 54% of the vote. (66,078 to 56,420)
The education community was solidly in favor of this change. Back then, the Alabama Congress of Parents and Teachers (PTA) was a real power and strongly supported the switch.
The first vote for an elected board was in November 1970 with members taking office in January 1971.
This move was not a rush to judgment It was a very deliberate process with input from many people around the state. But compare this is what the legislature has now done. As best can be determined, a handful of folks decided they know more than anyone else about how to best govern our state school system and they cobbled together this legislation. It was anything but a deliberative, reasonsed approach.
Given their track record in passing such things as the A-F school grading system, the Alabama Accountability Act and the charter school law (which is governed by an appointed board) it’s very difficult to put much faith in education policy cooked up in the Alabama statehouse.
It’s also doubtful that many supporters of Amendment One have bothered to learn the history of why we now do what we do.
If they had, why would they be saying we should go back to a failed system?