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Marsh, Ivey to propose historic overhaul of state school board

MONTGOMERY – Yellowhammer News has learned that Governor Kay Ivey and Senate President Del Marsh (R-Anniston) are moving to replace the elected Alabama State School Board with a new body that would be appointed by the governor.

Marsh will soon introduce a constitutional amendment in the legislature to establish the Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education.

The effort will attempt to historically reform the structure of Alabama’s governing body for education and turn the state’s public education system around.

Sources say this legislation, which is supported by Ivey, would provide for a referendum to go to the people during the March 2020 primary election if passed by the Alabama legislature during its ongoing 2019 regular session.

The proposal will likely include the appointment of commission members by the governor, and subject to confirmation by the Senate, initially in staggered terms. Terms of the current state school board members would end when the respective new appointments are confirmed, with the exact timing to be determined by the legislature after the hypothetical approval of the constitutional amendment in 2020.

The legislation will mandate that members make up the geographical, gender and racial diversity reflective of the Alabama public school system. Terms will run six years, with a maximum of two full terms per member.

There will be nine total members, with each Congressional District getting a member and, as needed, at-large positions filling the remainder to ensure the total membership is always nine.

Another highlight of the bill is that the State Superintendent position would be abolished and replaced with a Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education, appointed by the commission and subject to confirmation by the Senate.

Terms and conditions of the employment of the secretary will be determined by the commission. A secretary would continue to serve in the position until a new secretary is selected and confirmed by the Senate. If a vacancy occurred outside of a legislative session, an interim could be be selected but must be confirmed within five legislative days once the legislature is back in session.

The legislation also provides that the State Department of Education would work under the jurisdiction and direction of the commission and in coordination with local boards of education.

Immediately upon the new commission’s confirmation, the governor would appoint a diverse team of current and former educators, administrators and other experts from throughout the state to consult with and make recommendations to the commission on a regular basis relating to the operation and functioning of the Department of Education.

Why this is being proposed

The motivation behind the legislation is simple.

“It’s obvious that what we have been doing in Alabama has not been working,” a source with direct knowledge of the legislation emphasized to Yellowhammer News.

The latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) ranking put Alabama at a dismal 49th in 8th grade Math and 46th in 8th grade Reading nationally.

Marsh has been working for months to bring stakeholders together to allow them to provide input – which they have done.

The powerful senate pro tem, long considered a top leader on education policy in Alabama, looked at what other states that are successful are doing with their leadership structure. One commonality with those states is a school board structured the way his legislation would provide.

Alabama is currently one of only six states with an elected school board appointing a chief state school officer. The Yellowhammer State’s current model provides the governor with the “least amount of direct authority over education.” Additionally, this model has “limited ability to press for expansive policy changes.”

For comparison, all of Alabama’s neighbors have governor-appointed school boards, and all of the top states in NAEP rankings have governor-appointed boards.

The commission’s functions would be provided by general law but also explicitly would include development of the following:

  • Course of study standards that ensure consistency and transferability around the country, in lieu of Common Core.
  • A comprehensive teacher certification program.
  • A comprehensive teacher professional development program.
  • An accountability and assessment program

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 cited the state’s poor educational outcomes and ranking in bringing that Common Core repeal.

This topic has been an issue at the forefront of recent state policy discussions, and 43 percent of Alabamians even ranked education as the most pressing issue facing the state in a 2019 PARCA poll.

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