By Deborah Love
Two similar proposed bills, SB24 and SB25, make the State Board of Education (SBOE) appointed by a Director of Education. There will no longer be a Superintendent of Education but a Director of Education selected by the Governor. These bills are making their way through the Alabama Senate now. Their primary objective is to remove your constitutional right to elect your State Board of Education member and to dissolve the entire SBOE. These are four reasons why parents will oppose SB24 and SB25.
1) Without an elected board parents will be eliminated from the education policy-making process for their children
If the Alabama Legislature passes SB24 or SB25 the state Board of Education will no longer be elected by the people of Alabama from eight different districts across the state. These bills will dissolve the currently elected board and replace it with a Board of Counsel. Every member of the Board of Counsel will be selected by one individual in state government with full appointment powers – the Director of Education, who would be appointed by the governor.
Appointed boards are by their very nature not accountable to the people but to the individual responsible for placing them in a position of power. The people of Alabama will have no way to remove these new board members from office and the board member will have no incentive to listen to the parents’ concerns about their children or issues facing their district. Parents will have no structural role in the composition of the board. The new members will also serve a very narrow interest. Most American forms of government rely on having a broad cross section of inputs with democratically elected representatives, separation of powers, and top to bottom federalism. This leads to a wide variety of interests being represented. Having the school board be appointed by the state superintendent ensures that only those in the existing power structure are represented.
So, whether you want to address the library resources in your child’s local school, improve treatment of special needs students or repeal common core from Alabama schools don’t expect the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) to listen or respond because without an elected SBOE you have no one representing you.
2) State Board of Education meetings and public testimonies will become puppet shows
If SB24 or SB25 is passed the Board of Counsel will meet only once a year. That change alone will ensure that parents are not involved in the process. I have attended local school board meetings in Alabama where the school board was appointed instead of elected. The public was not allowed the opportunity to speak and they were not provided with the public documents the board was discussing. Parents who attend local school board meetings and SBOE meetings know that publicly sharing a statement is powerful. Some parents at local school board meetings in Alabama with appointed boards have been silenced. Some have even been illegally removed or intimidated at the public meetings. SBOE members listen to the testimony provided because it is usually meaningful, and because the people providing it have a direct impact on their continued existence on the board. Public hearings and public testimony are one of the most important ways that parents can voice their concerns and suggestions.
The impact of SB24 and SB25 will be that testimony from parents and concerned citizens, when allowed once a year, will be for show and not part of a balanced board-parent relationship. The board will answer to the Director of Education who will answer to the Governor who hand selected the Director.
3) Corruption will increase in state education policy and politics
The last thing the state legislature should be doing in Alabama is centralizing power. Have we not learned from Hubbard, Bentley, or other recent cases of corruption? Yet, SB24 and SB25 will centralize power and remove a constitutional right of the people of Alabama to elect a representative board of education. Alabama politics has seen increased corruption over the last several years. Parents and concerned taxpayers want to see steps taken to reduce corruption in our system. These new bills reflect the typical Alabama political response, when the going gets tough, reduce transparency and accountability. Whether you admire or oppose the actions of your current State Board of Education Member you now have a voice in the elective process. If SB24 or SB25 passes that will no longer be the case. You will have absolutely no control over who is selected for the Board of Counsel or the Director of Education. One of the great checks and balances of the education system of Alabama will be eliminated.
4) The Role of the State Board of Education is to be a deliberative body and not a rubber stamp for power
Currently the State Board of Education acts as a deliberative body working to address and discuss publicly all aspects of the ALSDE under their Constitutional authority. The State Board of Education has a diverse group of members selected by the people of Alabama in each district. There is on a regular basis discussions and disagreements on what the top priorities in education policy and the ALSDE should be. This is a good thing. Why? Because with discussion and dialog on difficult topics the best solutions are reached. A handpicked Director of Education and Board of Counsel will not address difficult topics with honesty like our parents and students need in Alabama. They will also not address local concerns. Diversity in the school board will be effectively eliminated. Our right to an elected board is precious and we should not throw it away. If we do we can be sure that the SBOE will become a rubber stamp for the status quo, reducing parents and students permanently to forgotten stakeholders in their own child’s education.