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Alabama Leaders Should Hear Themselves

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Alabama Leaders Should Hear Themselves

I’ve seen some bad appointed school boards. Some bad elected ones, too.

So I just can’t stop quoting Mark Twain:

“In the first place, God made idiots,” he said. “That was for practice. Then he made school boards.”

Perfection.

So when Alabama voters are asked to vote on Amendment 1 in March – which would do away with the state’s elected school board and replace it with members chosen by the governor and approved by the Senate – I don’t care.

Because there are good elected school boards and terrible ones. There are good appointed school boards and terrible ones. There are states with no school boards at all – Minnesota and Wisconsin – that still manage to educate students better than most. But then, New Mexico has no state school board either, and it ranks almost as bad – worse, by some measures – than even Alabama.

It ain’t about the school board. It is about a state’s commitment to education, and opportunity, and commitment and funding and making sure the kids in Macon County get the same opportunity as those in Mountain Brook.

Amendment 1 will not save us. It takes more work than that.

Amendment 1 will not kill us. We’re already pretty much dead.

Still, it is good to hear Gov. Kay Ivey and Senate President Pro Tempore Del Marsh – who have the most power to gain from its passage – talk about why Alabama needs change.

“We can no longer be complacent with where we rank in the education scores,” Ivey said after a recent school board meeting. “In almost every ranking that you look at, Alabama is ranked very low. Third graders are not reading proficiently. Too many graduates from high school are not ready for college or career.”

It is true. That’s all true. And Marsh echoed the governor, saying, as AL.com’s Mike Cason reported, that Alabama’s poor scores on tests and rankings, along with other a load of other problems, demonstrate the need for a new approach to education.

Which may very well be true as well.

“What we are asking is, put the responsibility on us,” Marsh said on Capitol Journal. “We’re asking for that responsibility and we’re eager to have it.”

That’s great. You got it. Like it’s great the Alabama Legislature is thinking about shortening the school year to pander to Gulf Coast tourism. Like it’s great that Gov. Ivey, after missing six of the first seven school board meetings as its president, started to actually go to the meetings. It’s great that Marsh now looks at areas of poor ranking and sees that processes and people need to change.

“People are not happy about being 50th in the country in education,” Marsh said.

Well it’s about time. I’ve been saying that for years, when my head was not bouncing off the wall. I’m glad Marsh agrees. But if it’s reason to shake up the school board, it’s reason to shake up a lot of other things.

Alabama – according to U.S. News and World Report – ranks 50th in education, 45th in economy, 45th in opportunity, 45th in crime and corrections, and the 49th best state overall. That’s down from 46th in 2018, by the way.

Under their leadership.

America’s Health Rankings places Alabama 47th worst this year, 49th in diabetes and 46th in infectious disease. Our sexually transmitted disease rates are shocking, but that doesn’t translate to sex education. We are 49th in infant mortality, 48th in cardiovascular death, 45th for kids in poverty, but expanding Medicaid continues to be a political non-starter.

Ivy and Marsh are right. We can no longer be complacent with where we rank.

Perhaps it is time to make change.

John Archibald, a Pulitzer Prize winner, is a columnist for AL.com. His column appears in The Birmingham News, the Huntsville Times, the Mobile Register, Birmingham Magazine and AL.com. Write him at jarchibald@al.com.

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