MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives on Friday resoundingly passed 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 three weeks ago. SB 397 passed the Senate unanimously this month and now heads to a referendum of the people on the state’s March 2020 primary election date.
Alabama’s public education system was ranked number 50 in the United States in a report published this month.
“Our current system is broken,” Marsh has said. “We need systemic changes to our education system and it starts at the top.”
State Rep. Bill Poole (R-Tuscaloosa), the chairman of the House Ways and Means Education Committee, carried the bill in the House and handled the legislation during an Education Policy Committee meeting last week and on the floor Friday.
Poole spoke in adamant support of the legislation, as did State Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur), the Education Policy Committee chair, in the committee meeting.
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 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 stalled in the House Education Policy Committee after passing the Senate. Marsh 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, also passed the House as amended on Friday. As a regular bill, SB 398 will head to the governor’s desk after the Senate concurs with the House amendment. Marsh said this is an integral part of his overall proposal, along with the constitutional amendment.
Governor Kay Ivey has come out in adamant support of the proposal.
Poole called this one of the most “significant” pieces of legislation he has ever supported. He echoed Marsh’s previous comments about poor educational outcomes and rankings in Alabama, with Poole saying the state needs to look itself in the mirror and ask, “Why are we ranked next to last in everything?”
He said the state is one of only six to elect its state school board, and Alabama’s results show this little-used system is not working. Thus, Poole said, this is not “a radical proposal.”
Marsh has explained, “We started looking at the states who have the highest ranked education systems and all of them have an appointed school board.”
“The taxpayers want more accountability, stability and improved schools across our state and this is the best way to achieve that goal,” he added.
On the floor, Poole said this is not a partisan endeavor and that he would be carrying the bill even if the governor was a Democrat.
Both Marsh and Poole have stressed that the proposal is “nothing personal” against any of the current elected state school board members, who would all be eligible to be appointed by the governor back to the newly created commission if the people of Alabama approve the constitutional amendment in March 2020.
The House’s SB 397 vote on Friday was 78-21. The chamber’s vote on SB 398 as amended was unanimous.
‘Time for Alabama to take the lead in education’
Upon passage of SB 397, Ivey released a statement commending the legislature and reaffirming her support for the proposal.
“Today, because of strong, bipartisan efforts, the future for Alabama’s education system is extremely promising,” she said. “Every Alabama voter will now have a chance to drastically change the structure for education governance in our state. It is time that bureaucracy no longer stands in the way of our educators, and most importantly, our students.”
Ivey outlined, “When our voters have the opportunity to support this constitutional amendment on their March 2020 ballots, they will be setting a positive tone for education in Alabama. Our current system is simply not working. Statistics prove that. However, through this bold change, I am confident that Alabama will have a system that will work more effectively for our students and educators.”
The governor thanked Marsh specifically for bringing the legislation.
“I commend Sen. Del Marsh for his leadership and dedication to finding solutions for Alabama’s education system,” Ivey emphasized. “Additionally, I applaud Speaker McCutcheon and the Alabama Legislature for supporting this piece of legislation and showing their willingness to make real, impactful changes.”
“It’s time for Alabama to take the lead in education. I look forward to finding more ways to improve our education system in Alabama,” the governor concluded.
Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn