Legislators show their bullying ways

THE ISSUE: State Board of Education members may come to regret the courage they showed in refusing to rubber-stamp nominees for the Public Charter School Commission. Not used to being questioned, some legislators are anxious to retaliate.

Alabama legislators usually operate with a veneer of civility and expressions of concern for their state, but occasionally some reveal themselves as school-yard bullies.

So it is with their treatment of the state Board of Education.

The latest of many clashes came last week, when the board declined to confirm appointees for the newly minted Public Charter School Commission. A 4-3 majority preferred not to be a rubber stamp in appointing nominees they had no role in selecting, for a charter-school law into which they had no input.

They tugged on Superman’s cape. It was a courageous move they may come to regret.

The first retaliation came from state Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, with the enthusiastic support of Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard. Just back from a trip to D.C. to collect an award from an out-of-state charter school group honoring her for pushing a version of its legislation through the Statehouse, Collins had no patience with the impertinent education board.

“If they don’t want to take advantage of the honor, we’ll go back to the appointee process,” she said, and immediately filed a bill that would entirely exclude them from selecting charter commission members.

It was a sadly amusing legislative slap. In fact, both the board and the department it oversees have been isolated from meaningful input throughout the process of implementing a charter school system.

Taxpayer money to support the charter schools — much of which will enrich private companies that the law authorizes to manage them — comes straight from the state’s public schools. The law gives local-elected school boards nominal control over charter schools, but allows the charters to instead report to the Public Charter School Commission if local boards don’t do what they want.

The state Board of Education likewise has nominal authority over who serves on the charter commission. That authority is a sleight of hand meant for public consumption, however, as the board is limited to nominees selected by the same elected officials who pushed the charter legislation through.

So Collins’ threat to eliminate the board’s authority over the charter commission is merely a threat to make blatant what previously was concealed. The Legislature resents its elected counterparts on the Board of Education, and has never had any intention of including them in the charter school conversation.

The greater threat comes from Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, who said he has drafted a bill that would convert the elected Board of Education into an appointed board.

At first blush this appears to be an idle threat, or at least one that would require a statewide election to implement. A constitutional amendment specifies that an elected state board of education shall have “general supervision of the public schools in Alabama.”

The board should take little comfort in the amendment. In numerous bills since the GOP took control in 2010, the Legislature has wrested “general supervision of the public schools” from the board. It also has blithely ignored constitutional amendments directing funds to the Education Trust Fund, routinely using the earmarked funds to pay for liabilities that have no relationship to education.

By all rights, legislators should be put in detention for their bullying ways. Unfortunately, the bullies run the schoolhouse.

(Published May 17, 2015)

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Filed under Alabama politics, charter schools, education

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