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Bill would replace elected school board with appointed panel

By Kim Chandler
The Associated Press

MONTGOMERY (AP) — Saying the state has a broken system of education governance, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and the Republican Alabama Senate leader are seeking to replace the elected state school board with a new commission appointed by the governor.

The proposed constitutional amendment would be a massive overhaul of how public education is governed in the state and end Alabama’s status as one of only a few states with an elected state school board.

The legislation also includes a directive for the new commission to repeal the Common Core curriculum standards, a measure that has been sought by some Republicans.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh introduced the legislation Thursday. He said Alabama’s chronically low test scores demonstrate a need for change.

“All those numbers tell us something is not right in education,” Marsh said. “If you look at the grades and the stats, we are not getting the job done.”

Alabama voters would have to agree to make the change. If approved by lawmakers, the idea would go before voters on March 3, 2020, the same day as the presidential and U.S. Senate primary.

Current school board member Ella Bell said she was surprised the governor was backing the proposal she said would remove “a leg of democracy” from voters.

“Democracy is what we live by and that is what we all grew up to believe,” Bell said.

Bell said she believes it is unfair for the governor and Marsh to blame school board members for test scores when school funding persistently lags other states.

“The legislature has never funded education as it should have been,” Bell said.

Alabama is one of seven states with an elected state school board, according to 2018 data from the National Association of State Boards of Education.

The proposed new nine-member Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education would consist of members — including one from each congressional district— appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. The commission would appoint a state education secretary who would replace the state superintendent. The position would also have to be confirmed by the Senate.

The legislation says the governor “shall ensure” that the commission membership reflects the geographical, gender, and racial diversity of the public school enrollment. Members would serve six-year staggered terms.

Ivey, who by position serves as a member of the state school board, sent a Thursday letter to school board members expressing her support for the change.

“The fact is our current system of governance is broken and desperately needs fixing,” Ivey wrote.

“If we truly want the very best education possible for the children of Alabama, then we need to find a model that has worked elsewhere but of equal importance, one that will work in Alabama,” Ivey wrote.

The legislation also includes a directive for the new education commission to replace Common Core curriculum standards.

Marsh this session introduced legislation to repeal the Common Core curriculum standards. It passed out of the Alabama Senate, but the measure has so far stalled in the House of Representatives.

The Republican Senate leader called the legislation his “premiere” issue of the session. It has hit the legislative fast track.

The measure will be before the Senate Education Policy Committee on Tuesday and could be on the Senate floor later that week. Twenty Republican senators in the 35-member Senate have signed on as co-sponsors of the proposed constitutional amendment.

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