By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
State Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, declared war on the state school board of Education with his introduction of Senate Bill 25, which would wipe out the Board and the position of Alabama state school superintendent.
Albritton’s bill would eliminate the position of State Superintendent of Education and reclassify the position as a cabinet position known as the Director of Education.
For decades Alabama governors have complained that they did not have enough power over education in the state. This bill would turn education into just another cabinet level agency, much like the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency or the Department of Corrections.
Currently, the governor is an, ex officio, member of the state School Board though the governor is only one member of the board. Traditionally, most governors historically are often absent from school board meetings on other matters of state. The governor would not sit on the board, but would have far more power and influence than previous governors.
The elected Board of Education would be replaced by an appointed Board of Counsel, the members of which are appointed by the Director of Education. Where currently the Superintendent is appointed by the Board of Education (who are elected by the people of their districts); this new Counsel would actually answer to the Director of Education. The Director however answers solely to the Governor of Alabama
The bill also specifies the qualifications of the members of the Board of Counsel; provides for terms and the filling of vacancies of members of the board; provides for the election of a president and vice president of the board.
Not everyone is in favor of this.
State Auditor Jim Zeigler said, “The people need to be able to elect their own school board. I would advise against it.”
Zeigler’s wife, Jackie Zeigler, is a member of the state school board.
There has been increasing hostility between the Legislature and the state school board.
Just three years ago, the entire state two year college system, which had been long under the Board of Education was given its own appointed board. The elected state school board had no input as the entire system moved to a newly created government board.
Sen. Albritton told the Alabama Media Group’s Trisha Powell Crain, “The system isn’t working, and it hasn’t worked for some time, and I’m not sure it can work.”
There has been growing dissatisfaction with the Board in recent years and in the K-12 system in general at producing graduates that meet the demand of Alabama employers. Employers complain that there are not enough students leaving high school with trade skills. A lack of available workers with two year technical certifications, two year associates degrees, four year degrees (over half of the students at the University of Alabama are not from Alabama and most will never enter the Alabama workforce) and above is making it harder for the state to recruit companies to come to Alabama. Some in the Legislature blame the Board.
The state adopted the controversial Alabama College and Career Ready Standards that were aligned with the Common Core eight years ago. Implementation occurred five years ago and the state has dropped in most of the state rankings since then.
In 2017, U.S. News and World Report and the McKinsey Corporation ranks Alabama schools as number 47. Only Nevada, New Mexico, and South Carolina have worse performing schools. The NAEP scores Alabama #50 in 8th grade math scores, #47 in 8th grade reading scores, and #46 in college readiness (only 24 percent of Alabama kids meet ACT benchmarks).
The Board has been divided as to whether to scrap the Common Core and go back to the old standards or to continue to teach the new teaching methods. Conservatives hope that the majority of the board will side with them and overturn the Common Core curriculum and replace Common Core aligned text books. To this point, the Legislature has defended the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards and have rejected calls from some conservatives to overturn them. Conservative critics of the experimental curriculum hope to make the issue important in Republican primaries for state Legislature and for school board. This bill would give the governor and the educators in power the final say on issues like Common Core.
The Legislature will take up this matter when it goes back into session on January 9, 2018.