An amendment to change the elected state school board to an education commission that would be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate was debated from both sides Sunday.
State Sen. Greg Albritton, a Republican from Baldwin County, who was among the co-sponsors of the Senate bill that put the amendment on the ballot, said they never claimed that Amendment 1 would cure all the state’s education ills.
“The basic claim we do make is it is a method of systemic change in the bureaucratic morass that our department of education seems to be stuck in,” Albritton said.
Larry Lee, a public education advocate who runs a website on education topics and is a regular contributor to the Alabama Political Reporter, said some voters don’t trust the Legislature to make decisions that affect public education in Alabama.
“I think Amendment 1 is little more than a sham,” Lee said. “It’s built on faulty numbers and makes false promises. It is simply another example of the elites in Montgomery trying to take away our right to vote and seize more and more power.”
The Southeast Alabama League of Women Voters hosted the community forum at the Westgate Library in Dothan so voters could learn more about the amendment before they are asked to choose between an elected or an appointed state school board during Alabama’s primary election on March 3.
Albritton said he feels strongly about public education in Alabama and “frankly, we’re not doing very well.”
He cited scores that show Alabama ranks low in math, reading and other skills compared to other states.
“There’s only 10 states in the country that have elected school boards,” Albritton said. “All of them around us have appointed school boards, and all of them are doing better than we are. Even when we are spending the same amount for each student, they do better.”
Answering a question about whether it’s possible to ensure that an appointed school board promotes an educational agenda and not a political one, Lee said Alabama used to have an appointed state school board.
“It ended in 1970, and the reason it ended was the people in Montgomery and educators around the state decided it was too political because the people who were appointed by the governor to serve on that board were paying more attention to who appointed them than they were to local educators,” Lee said.
Addressing a question about whether an appointed board would be accountable to the electorate, Albritton said voters still have control.
“With this appointed school board, the accountability will rest with one person principally, and that’s the governor,” Albritton said. “If the governor gets education moving and corrected, she’ll get reelected. If she doesn’t, she won’t get reelected.”
Appointed board members would have to be confirmed by members the Senate, who are elected by voters.
“There will be more eyes on it and more control,” Albritton said.