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Alabama Board of Education needs changes, lawmaker says

Alabama Board of Education needs changes, lawmaker says
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Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, has proposed a way to improve the way the elected state board of education functions.

Collins said she started looking at ways to improve the board last summer. “I felt like we saw a lot of chaos,” she said, at board meetings and work sessions. “We saw arguing [among board members]. We didn’t seem to have a clear-cut vision.”

Collins, who chairs the House Education Policy committee filed HB70 this week. The bill proposes to add four non-voting members to the nine-member state board of education. Of those additional seats, two would be filled by Alabama’s Teachers of the Year, and two would be filled by students.

Additionally, Collins said state board of education members should “lead by example” and be subjected to the same annual training requirements and standards of board service expected of local school board members.

Those training requirements and standards are a part of the School Board Governance Improvement Act of 2012 and should apply to state board members, too, she said.

Alabama’s Constitution requires the board to be elected, and Collins said she doesn’t see the people giving up their right to elect board members, so she isn’t proposing to change how board members obtain their seats.

Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, recently filed a bill to change the board from being elected to being appointed.

Collins credits Gov. Kay Ivey and interim state superintendent Dr. Ed Richardson with moving the board in a better direction in recent months, but said it’s still a good idea to have teachers and students at the board table.

Having teachers and students serve on the board isn’t unusual, Collins said, as 19 states have students serving on the state education governing board in some capacity.

Under her proposal, both the current and immediate past Teacher of the Year would have a seat at the table, she said, and the students would be delegates from Boys State and Girls State.

Boys State and Girls State are organizations sponsored by the American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary that promote citizen involvement in government. Students in their junior year are recommended for participation in the organization by a school official.

AL.com was not able to determine how widespread participation in the organization is in Alabama’s public schools.

Collins said she had run the bill past many, but not all, state board members along with others in the education community and said she has received positive reactions to her bill.

State board member Betty Peters, R-Kinsey, had only just received the bill when contacted by AL.com. Peters was first elected to represent District 2 in south and east Alabama in 2002 and is not seeking re-election in 2018.

After a quick glance at the bill, Peters said, “I’d be happy to have [students’] input,” but said she worries about taking students out of class to attend monthly board meetings. She said she would like to see the board find a way to incorporate student input on a regular basis, but isn’t sure this is the best way.  

Peters said she liked the idea of adding Teachers of the Year to the board table.

Peters said she isn’t surprised to see these bills filed as the state board’s actions over the past year have likely brought the increased scrutiny.

“I think we [board members] have been our own worst enemy,” Peters said.

Collins said she expects to see other bills filed to change the way the board of education functions. “There’ll be several others,” she said, “because of the year that we’ve had.” 

Alabama HB70 as introduced by Trisha Powell Crain on Scribd

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