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Committee takes no action on bill that would eliminate state Board of Education

By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter

A Senate committee did not consider a bill that would abolish the elected state Board of Education, citing that they would need time to consider the bill’s effects on education.

The Committee on Education and Youth Affairs met on Wednesday morning to consider a bill by Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, that would drastically reorganize the education system in the state of Alabama.

Albritton’s bill would abolish the state Department of Education and more notably the state Board of Education, which he said isn’t advancing the mission of better education for Alabama’s students. It is a part of multiple bills floating around the Legislature that aim at restructuring the department.

At the committee meeting, the bill was met with concerns that it was a drastic reaction that may not pan out in the end. Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, said the bill may even need to be worked out over the course of many Legislative sessions.

But while concerns were the norm, there was also a contingent of senators who thought the bill would place a face to blame for Alabama’s educational woes.

Chairman of the committee Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery, said that currently there is no one to directly blame for the state of Alabama’s education. He pointed to the state Board of Education as insufficient to manage the educational system with little to no staff.

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A key part of Albritton’s bill would be to create a cabinet-level position in the governor’s office that would oversee the education system in Alabama. This would also dismantle the state Board of Education and replace it with a counsel of advisors handpicked by the new director of education that would serve at the pleasure of the governor.

Another bill that would change the Board’s structure is a bill sponsored by Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur. The bill, which gained a favorable report last week, would add two non-voting positions unto the board comprised of two students from the Boys and Girls Club of Alabama and two teachers who received the Teacher of the Year award.

The education bills come at a critical time with the state Board of Education currently conducting a search for a new state superintendent after former superintendent Michael Sentance resigned last year amid rumors that the board would fire him.

Sentance’s tenure in the department was met with fiery board meetings and public, and sometimes vicious, disagreements between board members. It was ultimately Sentance’s evaluation that would set the stage for his departure from the state.

At a special work session to finalize plans to search for a new state superintendent, board members expressed concerns that the relationship between the Board and the Legislature would harm their chances of finding a candidate. They pointed to Albritton’s bill when discussing the environment that the new superintendent would enter.

The final candidate of the search is expected to be announced in mid-April when the Legislative session begins to wind down.

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