Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh have championed the effort to shift the state away from an elected state school board. Under the proposal, members of a new education commission would be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Alabama Senate.
Senators voted 30-0 for the proposed constitutional amendment. It now moves to the Alabama House of Representatives.
“We’ve got some real problems in education,” Marsh, the bill’s sponsor, said before describing state test score results. “We have pockets in this state where we have wonderful systems, but we have large areas where we don’t.”
The measure has brought criticism from some current board members who say elected members must be responsive to people in their district.
“Clearly it’s a power grab,” said Stephanie Bell, a longtime member of the Alabama Board of Education. “With an elected board you have a voice through your vote,” Bell said.
Sen. Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile, expressed concerns even though the measure cleared the Senate without a dissenting vote.
“It just politicizes it too much,” Davis Figures said. “Who are these people going to be? Are they going to be rich people who have never gone to public schools?”
The bill now moves to the Alabama House of Representatives.
Alabama voters would have to agree to make the change. If approved by lawmakers, the idea would go before voters on March 3, 2020, the same day as the presidential and U.S. Senate primary.
According to the National Association of State Boards of Education, Alabama is one of seven states with an elected board.
The proposed new nine-member Alabama Commission on Elementary and Secondary Education would consist of members — including one from each congressional district — appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. The commission would appoint a state education secretary who would replace the state superintendent. The position would also have to be confirmed by the Senate.
The legislation says the governor “shall ensure” that the commission membership reflects the geographical, gender, and racial diversity of the public school enrollment. Members would serve six-year staggered terms.
The legislation also includes a directive for the new commission to repeal the Common Core curriculum standards, a measure that has been sought by some Republicans.
Ivey praised the Senate passage of the legislation.
“We saw a very strong, bipartisan vote count today in the Senate on SB397 because this is the right thing to do for Alabama’s students,” Ivey said.