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Opinion | Do you really want Marsh to hand pick State School Board?

Larry Lee

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Let’s cut right to the chase.

If the voters of Alabama approve a constitutional amendment next March that switches us from an elected to an appointed state school board, Senate majority leader Del Marsh will be in total control of the board.

To date, most discussion of the amendment has virtually ignored the fact that the legislation passed in May calling  for this vote says: Each member appointed to the commission shall be subject to confirmation by the Senate…”

Interpretation: Since Marsh controls the supermajority senate with an iron hand, no one will be appointed without his approval.

Given his track record with public education, this is a very scary thought.

After all, Marsh pushed through the Alabama Accountability Act in 2013 and later boasted that he made sure no one in education knew about this bill because they might have opposed it.  At last count, AAA has diverted $145 million from the education trust fund so that about 3,500 students could get scholarships to private schools.  The public was told over and over again that this bill would “help poor kids stuck in struggling schools by their zip codes.”

There is only one problem.  No one in the Black Belt can find any of these students.

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Marsh was also the godfather of the charter school law passed in 2015.  As spelled out in the law, charter schools are governed by a commission made up of appointments from the governor, lt. governor, speaker of the house and senate majority leader.

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How has that worked?  Judging from the fiasco in Washington County about a charter approved by the commission, not so well.  Do we really want to take a chance that an appointed state school board would be any better?

While language in the amendment legislation says that the governor “shall ensure that the appointed membership of the commission reflects the geographical, gender, and racial diversity o the students enrolled in public K-12 education in the state,” it should be noted that this is similar to language in the charter law that has been virtually ignored.

For instance, according to the law, “The appointing authority shall consider the eight State Board of Education districts in determining the geographical diversity of the commission.”   But of the nine commission members serving prior to August 8, 2019, four of them were from Montgomery and none from Mobile.  How’s that for geographical diversity?

The charter law also says that one commission member appointed by the speaker and one by the majority leader SHALL be recommended by the minority party in each body. There is no indication that this has ever been done.

So just because we have some words on some paper apparently doesn’t mean that in the cauldron of political maneuvering, anyone will pay much attention to them.

And while there is no doubt that Governor Ivey is very interested in public education and attends most state board meetings, she is the excepti8on, not the rule, when it comes to governors.

Look at our previous two governors, Bob Riley and Robert Bentley.  They rarely attended state board meetings.  When the accountability act was passed, Bob Riley quickly created the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund, a scholarship granting organization, to dole out money contributed by big companies seeking tax breaks at the expense of public schools.  (Riley raised $17 million in 2013.  Some $14 million came from only two sources.  And we are supposed to believe that Riley’s only interest was “helping poor kids stuck in failing schools by their zipcodes?”

Bentley’s track record was equally suspect.  After all, he’s the governor who proclaimed in a speech that “Education sucks.”  His was the deciding vote that brought Mike Sentance from Massachusetts to Alabama to be state superintendent in 2016.  Has there ever been a more disastrous decision for our public schools?

And don’t forget that Bentley made an appointment to the state school board when he picked Matt Brown of Baldwin County to fill a vacant seat.  His credentials?  He had never attended a public school, said that his children never would either, and worked tirelessly in 2015 to defeat a vote in Baldwin County to better fund schools.

Of course, governors are term-limited and will not serve forever.  But legislation is not term-limited and what happens when the next Bob Riley or Robert Bentley becomes governor?

We are treading on dangerous ground with this amendment.  And never forget that at this point in time, if it passes, Del Marsh will virtually control our public school systems.

 

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