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Ivey, legislative leaders start bipartisan push for state school board referendum — ‘It’s time to take the lead, Alabama’

BIRMINGHAM — Governor Kay Ivey on Monday announced her “Take the Lead, Alabama” initiative, an effort to raise awareness over K-12 education issues in the state and rally support for an important referendum on the state’s March 2020 primary election ballot.

Legislative leaders from both parties joined Ivey for a press conference at the McWane Science Center to express their steadfast, bipartisan commitment to education reform in the state of Alabama, calling on the people to approve SB 397 in the upcoming referendum.

This constitutional amendment, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston), represents a historic overhaul of the state school board. The proposal would change Alabama’s current, elected State Board of Education to a governor-appointed Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education.

SB 397 received overwhelming support in the Alabama legislature during the 2019 regular session. The Senate passed the legislation unanimously and the House vote was 78-21.

The constitutional amendment would also establish the Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education, appointed by the commission, to replace the current state superintendent position. The governor’s appointments and the secretary must be confirmed by the Senate and will be required to have the geographical, gender and racial diversity that reflects the state public-school population.

Alabama is one of only six states with an elected school board appointing a chief state school officer. All of Alabama’s neighboring states have governor-appointed school boards.

Additionally, the Yellowhammer State’s public education system was ranked number 50 in the United States in a report published last month and has consistently been stagnant (at best) near the bottom of other national K-12 educational rankings for years.

Speaking to attendees at the Monday press conference, Ivey emphasized this effort is a continuation of the core promise she made to the people of Alabama when she assumed office in 2017: Alabama’s education system has been broken for years, starting with its system of governance at the top, and Ivey is dedicated to righting the ship.

“Since taking office, I’ve made improving education a top priority. As a former teacher, I recognize that strong leadership and a strong plan are necessary components to improving our education system,” Ivey said. “Through my ‘Take the Lead, Alabama’ initiative, we will shake up how we do things in our state to improve educational outcomes for students in every region. I encourage every Alabamian to join me in supporting this constitutional amendment, so that Alabama can take the lead!”

Marsh, after spearheading the legislative side of the proposal, is continuing to be an integral advocate ahead of the referendum.

“Our current system is broken,” Marsh has said previously. “We need systemic changes to our education system and it starts at the top.”

At the press conference, he thanked Ivey for her support and dedication to improving education in the state

“No issue is more important in Alabama than education,” Marsh stressed. “Next March, the voters will have the chance to send a strong message that we want a school board that is capable of making decisions in the best interests of our schools, teachers and students.”

The top states in The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) —Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Virginia, Florida, Indiana, Vermont, South Dakota, Iowa — have governor-appointed boards. Studies have shown that states where governors appoint state education chiefs perform better than states where chiefs gain their posts by other means.

Marsh added, “I believe students learn best when innovation is allowed to take place in the classroom. If we have a school board that is made up of qualified individuals who are held accountable, we can increase local control, reduce the amount of time the Legislature spends on education reform and put the power back where it belongs, in the hands of educators.”

This constitutional amendment would also establish the commission’s functions, as provided by general law, and would also specifically include emphasis on implementing a consistent course of study standards; comprehensive teacher certification and professional development programs; and an accountability and assessment program.

This explicitly includes that SB 397 would mandate that the newly formed commission replace Common Core in Alabama.

Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper) has previously said, “This is a solid reform — I appreciate Senator Marsh for moving this bill forward, Governor Kay Ivey for supporting it, and I urge the voters of Alabama to approve its passage in March.”

House Ways and Means Education Chairman Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa) carried the bill in the House.

Additional legislative headliners like House Majority Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville), House Majority Whip Danny Garrett (R-Trussville), State Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur), State Rep. Allen Baker (R-Brewton), State Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), State Rep. Pebblin Warren (D-Tuskegee) and State Rep. Barbara Boyd (D-Anniston) were on hand Monday to show their support, saying educating Alabama’s students transcends politics.

At the end of the press conference, Ivey also signed SB 398, a Marsh-sponsored bill passed as a companion to SB 397 that would ensure the governor would consult with members of the minority caucuses in the legislature when appointing minority members to the Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education, if the referendum is successful.

“I applaud the Legislature for giving final passage to a law that will guarantee the Legislature’s minority party a strong voice during the appointment process. Bipartisanship has and will continue to be a major focus of my administration,” Ivey remarked.

She added, “This legislation reaffirms that in order for us to make substantial and positive changes to our state’s education system, we must all work together. By doing so, we will undoubtedly create a better future for our students… It’s time to take the lead, Alabama!”

For more information on the dire statistics related to Alabama’s education rankings and outcomes, along with more information on the “Take the Lead, Alabama” campaign, click here.

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