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Sen. Del Marsh: Look at the ‘big picture’ on education

By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News

Senate President Pro-Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, told Alabama Daily News that he thinks 2020 will be another “good year” for the state’s education budget.

“The education revenues are looking good,” Marsh said. “So we’re at a point, where we keep improving the pre-k programs, which is a big importance for the governor, and its’ a good time to address problems in education because we’ll have money to put it where we need it.”

While education budget talks are still months away, Marsh said that he’s now focusing on getting the word out about the constitutional amendment vote that would change state school board governance structure.

Marsh said he understands that this will be a challenging change for voters to understand, but believes this amendment will improve the state’s education system.

“This is tough, I get it,” Marsh said. “I’m asking the people of this state, including myself, to go from an elected board to an appointed board, but I just don’t come up with that idea because I think it sounds good. I look at what every state in this country is doing today and we are only one of six other states that still have an elected board.”

The amendment will be on the March 3 ballot, along with the primary elections.

If approved, the constitutional amendment would change the elected state school board to an appointed commission, made up of selections by the governor who are then confirmed by the Senate.

One state school board member, Jackie Ziegler, R-Mobile, recently launched her own formal campaign against the amendment: “Vote No on CA1: Keep your right to vote on State School Board.”

She said in an emailed statement that the amendment is taking “away the voice of the people.”

“Elimination of your elected State Board of Education Constitutional officers would be one step closer to having the Educational Trust Fund fall into the hands of individuals whose main intent may not be our students’ best interest,” Ziegler said. “We must continue to be aware of the consequences that will result from this attempt to take away the power of the citizens.”

The amendment had bipartisan support in the legislature. It passed the Senate with no opposition but in the House it passed mostly along party lines with a 78 to 21 vote.

Marsh told ADN that his desire to see the school board governance policy change is not a personal attack on anyone but thinks the board is not functioning properly.

“I don’t know if it’s personalities, I can’t really say. But at the end of the day, we should all want what is best for the kids of this state and to produce the best education system we can.” Marsh said. “What we’ve got right now does not appear to be functioning and it’s definitely not giving us the results in education, in terms of reading, mathematics, and ACT scores; it’s not happening.”

Marsh also said he does not believe this is taking away the voters right because they will still be able to have a voice in the process through the confirmation process that each appointee has to go through.

“It allows citizens to come down and sit in on that process and to find out what these people’s background really is and their philosophy in education,” Marsh said. “It is a better process to put people in governance for the long-term benefit for the state of Alabama. I firmly believe that.”

Now Marsh says, leading up to the vote in March, his main focus is talking to various groups and agencies in the state about supporting the amendments and getting the word out to voters.

He said he has checked with the ethics commission to make sure he has the approval to go out and ask people to raise funds for this campaign. Marsh said so far, they haven’t raised any money. Once the election is closer, Marsh said he does plan on rolling out a media campaign that could involve TV and radio marketing.

Some state groups he’s already talked to about supporting the amendment are the  Business Council of Alabama, Alabama Realtors Association, Alabama Trial Lawyers Association, Alabama Farmers Federation and the Alabama School Superintendents Association.

So far, Marsh says he hasn’t heard of any money being spent in trying to defeat amendment one.

Marsh also spoke about the recent release of Alabama’s public school report cards which showed an overall improvement for the state school system, going from an 80 to an 84.

He said that while the report cards show some progress, there is still work that needs to be done.

“You have to look at the big picture,” Marsh said. “Yes we had some improvement but we’ve got a long way to go.”

This is the third year the state has published these state wide report cards that shows how the state is doing overall, while also getting specific to each school district and school. Marsh says that he thinks the report cards are important for parents so they can understand their school system.

“The nice thing about the report card is that you want something that the public understands,” Marsh said. “The public understands A through F, and I think it’s important to give the public a clear idea of what’s happening.”

Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, sponsored the original legislation that created the report cards and told ADN that she thinks the report cards are important because they pinpoint where the problem areas are for a school or school district.

“What I was so very pleased with, even that very first time they were released, was that they acknowledged where some issues were and then schools were able to create strategies to address those issues,” Collins said.

The report cards are based on an end of the year assessment and are calculated by looking at indicators like academic achievement, graduation rates, academic growth, chronic absenteeism and college and career readiness.

Collins said that she has talked with state education leaders about weighing college and career readiness more or at least equal to what graduation is weighted in the report cards.

Marsh agrees with this idea and says he is still looking into other accountability measures that will help Alabama’s educational system as a whole.

“We’re going to continue to push accountability because the tax payer demands that, and they should,” Marsh said. “And it’s our job to be as accountable as we can.”

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