When you stop by your polling site for the March 3 primary, you’ll be asked to state your preference on a proposed constitutional amendment that you probably don’t know much about.
The Amendment 1 proposal, if it passes, would:
1) Change the name of the Alabama Board of Education to the Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education.
2) Give the governor the responsibility for appointing members of the commission, subject to confirmation by the Senate.
3) Change the name of the state superintendent to the Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education;
4) Give the commission the responsibility of appointing the Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education.
5) Authorize the governor to appoint a team of local educators and other officials to advise the commission on matters relating to the functioning and duties of the state Department of Education.
Alabama is one of seven states and the District of Columbia where voters elect all members of the state board of education, according to the National Association of State Boards of Education. And therein lies the biggest challenge to those seeking the change.
Most voters are just plain reluctant to give up their right to vote.
Those supporting the change claim it will take politics out of the state’s educational leadership. Not really. As long as you have an elected official – in this case the governor – choosing the members of the commission there will be politics involved.
However, politics in this case just might be a good thing. A 2007 study conducted by Paul Manna, assistant professor of the Department of Government Thomas Jefferson Program in Public Policy at the College of William and Mary, found that “states perform better when governors are empowered to appoint leaders of state education agencies.”
Why, you ask? Because in states with the appointed model, the electorate is holding governors accountable for the education system, which forces governors to make education a priority, or risk being voted out of office.
Will changing the leadership structure of the state’s educational system lead to better test scores? It’s impossible to predict.
Jeff Newman, who has represented District 7 on the state school board since 2012, believes some of the state’s education problems can’t be solved by governance alone. Educational excellence, he said, must be “addressed by strong teachers in the classroom who have the resources they need to teach.”
Any argument about the pros and cons of an elected vs. appointed board is divisive on the surface. But amidst the division is one point unifying elected officials and educational professionals statewide: The status quo is just not working, and something must be done.
Fortunately, the electorate will have a say in that decision on March 3. In the interim, take some time to get familiar with the Amendment 1 proposal.