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Opinion | Stop electing judges, not school board members

Joey Kennedy

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I’m cheering for state Board of Education member Jackie Zeigler in her effort to make sure voters understand that when they vote on Amendment One next March, they clearly understand they’re voting to dissolve the elected state school board and replace it with an appointed board called the “Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education.”

As written, voters clearly could overlook that aspect of the amendment and believe they’re just voting for name changes. A “secretary of education” instead of a school superintendent. An“education commission” instead of a school board. They are not. They are voting to disfranchise themselves from having a say in the selection of state school board members.

The amendment is strongly supported by Gov. Kay Ivey and State Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston. Sure it is: Ivey gets to appoint “commission” members, and they must be confirmed by Marsh’s Senate. They want to control state schools, not allow an independent school board to do it.

Hey! If we’re going to take away the citizens right to vote on anything, let’s take away their right to vote for those who serve on the Supreme Court, the two appeals courts, and even county district and circuit courts.

School board members are often partisans. But there is no room for partisanship on the state’s courts. Marsh makes the weak argument that the top states for education have appointed school boards. That may be true. Top states for education also fund their schools better than Alabama. They pay their teachers morethan Alabama does.

Marsh commits one of the most common logical fallacies, the post hoc ergo propter hoc (“after this, therefore because of this”) fallacy. Writing teachers see this fault in logic in plenty of student papers. Basically in this case: “Because our school board is elected by voters, our schools are crappy.”

There’s not enough evidence to make that claim.

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You know, elected boards could be a small part of the reason, or not. Certainly school systems that  financially support their schools better than the state have better schools. Look at Mountain Brook, Homewood, and Vestavia Hills city school systems for three outstanding examples.

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Now look at our courts. They exist to enforce laws, punish criminals based on those laws, and settle civil arguments according to the law.

The law. Only the law.

Partisanship has ruined the court system. Look at the Alabama Supreme Court right now. The justices are sitting on an appeal by former House Speaker Mike Hubbard, convicted of corruption. Hubbard is a Republican, as is each member of the Supreme Court.

The ethics law Hubbard was convicted under is clear that Hubbard violated his oath to enrich himself. It shouldn’t take six minutes, much less more than six months for the court to rule. Yet, Hubbard is still free, despite being sentenced to four years in prison.

Instead of partisan elections, some states have a special commission that selects a particular number of qualified judicial candidates, sends their name to an appointing body (often, a governor), then holds retention elections to see if those judges retain their position. Why isn’t Marsh out there pushing for that, at least at the Supreme Court and appeals courts levels?

Instead, Marsh and Ivey want to take the schools away from voters.

I’m voting against Amendment One on March 3.

But I’d certainly favor a system where judges have to be qualified to serve on the bench and not be picked in partisan elections when partisanship should have nothing to do with court rulings.

Only the law, not any party’s political philosophy, should determine how a judge rules, especially a justice serving on the state’s highest court.

Vote “No” on Amendment One. Let’s turn that energy instead toward making our courts as nonpartisan as possible.

But it won’t happen. The Legislature and special interests would lose control over the courts, and Marsh and other lawmakers are certainly not going to let that happen.

If Marsh, Ivey, and lawmakers are serious about improving state schools, take a good look at the states with high quality school systems. What they’ll find is that money matters, for both educators and for the schools in which they work.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

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