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Alabama’s public education system ranked nation’s worst as ‘bold change’ set for legislative committee hearing

MONTGOMERY — Alabama’s public education system was ranked number 50 in the United States in a new report published Tuesday, the same day the State Senate’s Committee on Education Policy is set to hear SB 397, a constitutional amendment proposed by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) that would overhaul Alabama’s public K-12 governance.

The annual U.S. News and World Report‘s ranking of the best and worst states to live placed Alabama at number 49 for 2019, representing a three-spot slide from the previous year. The main reason for the decline was Alabama’s education system, which dropped from number 47 to dead last over that time span.

The dire state of Alabama’s public K-12 system is why Marsh has put such an emphasis on his legislation.

“We need systemic changes to our education system and it starts at the top,” he has said.

Marsh’s legislation 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.

SB 397 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.”

The legislation has 20 Senate cosponsors — all Republicans.

Additionally, 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.

However, the proposal’s first real legislative test comes Tuesday at 2:45 p.m., when the Senate committee has the legislation on its agenda at the State House.

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.

“Our students and teachers deserve much more from our educational system, and this constitutional amendment is a way forward for Alabama’s future,” Ivey said. “We must refuse to be complacent with our poor educational rankings. I strongly urge members of the Alabama Legislature and people across the state to join me in supporting this bill.”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn