While the Alabama Legislature and Gov. Kay Ivey were the focus of national and international headlines following passage of the most stringent abortion legislation to date, the Senate, without much fanfare, approved a measure to abolish the elected state school board.
The 30-0 vote sends the proposal to the House for further action, which if approved, would create a constitutional amendment vote for the 2020 ballot.
Ivey and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh have championed the effort to shift Alabama away from an elected school board. Under the proposal, members of a new education commission would be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. The plan would also eliminate the position of state superintendent of education and replace it with a secretary of education.
“We’ve got some real problems in education,” Marsh, the bill’s sponsor, said before describing state test score results. “We have pockets in this state where we have wonderful systems, but we have large areas where we don’t.”
Marsh is absolutely right concerning the uneven quality and performances of Alabama schools. There is also a lingering problem on why some schools fail miserably while others produce much better results.
The wealth of local communities — higher commerce and tax collections, proximity to strong economic centers — has much to do with the feast or famine of public education in Alabama.
Cities such as Cullman committed years ago to an additional sales tax for schools, which in a few years allowed administrators and teachers to intensify instruction and improve technology to be more in step with changing economic needs.
Isolated school districts, some with more facilities than money can support, have suffered from poor economic opportunities and limited or non-existent internet service needed to help advance classroom achievement and readiness for the future.
The state’s leadership is working to expand broadband, but even so the funding is naturally imbalanced as areas such as north Alabama generate new jobs, while other pockets of the state linger in conditions that existed a generation ago.
Legitimate questions remain about how a governor-appointed state school board will work. Some current school board members are concerned about the looming loss of elected members as a matter of representation for residents. That concern is understandable.
Nevertheless, there is potential in an appointed board taking up clear directives that can improve education across the state, provided the Legislature makes financial commitments to help failing or troubled schools.
With the measure landing in the House, a thorough vetting is needed. Change is certainly needed if Alabama wants to capitalize on recent economic successes and broaden the capabilities of the workforce.
Keeping an open mind about the Senate legislation is worthwhile. But, at the same time, more specific plans for school improvement are needed before the House rubber stamps the measure and sends it to Ivey.