MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate on Thursday passed as amended SB 397, a constitutional amendment sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) that would be a historic overhaul of the state school board.
The proposal was first reported on by Yellowhammer News last week.
Alabama’s public education system was ranked number 50 in the United States in a new report published Tuesday, the same day the Senate’s Committee on Education Policy gave SB 397 a favorable report.
“Our current system is broken,” Marsh has said. “We need systemic changes to our education system and it starts at the top.”
SB 397 would replace the current elected State Board of Education with the Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education, members of which will be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the State Senate. The legislation has 20 Senate cosponsors — all Republicans.
The legislation would also abolish the State Superintendent position and replace it with a Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education, appointed by the commission and subject to confirmation by the Senate.
Marsh advised, “Currently, one of the reasons that education is consistently the most pressing issue for most Alabamians is because our state school board is completely dysfunctional. We have had five State Superintendents in three years. Our teachers and students are the ones who suffer from this the most.”
Additionally, SB 397 would mandate that the newly formed commission replace Common Core in Alabama.
This comes in the wake of Marsh introducing a bill this session to replace Common Core in the state of Alabama. That bill has stalled in the House Education Policy Committee. He also cited the state’s poor educational outcomes and ranking in bringing that Common Core repeal.
SB 398, a bill which ensures the legislative minority caucus would have input in the governor’s appointments to the new commission, was passed Wednesday by the Senate. Marsh said this is an integral part of his overall proposal, along with the constitutional amendment.
SB 397 and SB 398 are now in the hands of the House.
Governor Kay Ivey has come out in adamant support of the proposal. Marsh told reporters at the State House that State Rep. Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa), the powerful chair of the House Ways and Means Education Committee, will carry the legislation in that chamber.
As a constitutional amendment, SB 397 (if passed by the Alabama legislature) would need to be approved by the people of the state in a referendum. This would occur on the March 2020 primary election date.
“I look forward to working with the Governor and my colleagues in the Legislature as well as those with an interest in our education system to get this bill out for a vote of the people. I also want to thank Governor Ivey for her support. The taxpayers want more accountability, stability and improved schools across our state and this is the best way to achieve that goal,” Marsh said.
He has explained that the highest performing state systems across the nation use the form of governance Marsh is proposing.
“Over the past year I have met with every entity involved with public education in the state of Alabama,” Marsh outlined. “We started looking at the states who have the highest ranked education systems and all of them have an appointed school board.”
During the Senate debate’s on SB 397 Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper) was a major proponent of the legislation.
Marsh called education “the most important issue in this state.”
The Senate gave the legislation an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 30-0.
After voting the bill out of committee on Tuesday, State Sen. Vivian Davis Figures (D-Mobile) vocally opposed the bill on the floor, saying the people of Alabama should be able to elect their respective state school board member but that they should not be able to vote on SB 397 via referendum.
However, Figures then did not vote against the bill.
After SB 397 passed the Senate, Ivey released a statement calling on the House to pass the legislation.
“We saw a very strong, bipartisan vote count today in the Senate on SB397 because this is the right thing to do for Alabama’s students,” the governor emphasized. “Today, the Senate took the first step, and I now call on Speaker McCutcheon and the House to prioritize passing this constitutional amendment over the remaining days of the legislative session. The future of our students, teachers and state depend on our action.”
Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn