Zeigler: I think it is imperative that the people have a voice

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 28, 2019

With Gov. Kay Ivey supporting a bill that will eliminate the people’s voice to choose who is on the state board of education, Covington County’s representative on the state school board Jackie Zeigler said she is vehemently against the proposal.

Ivey said she supports two bills, SB397 and SB398, filed in May by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston. The bill would replace the elected school board with an appointed state commission and replace the state superintendent position with a secretary of elementary and secondary education. The secretary would be appointed by the commission and confirmed by the Senate.

“With this bold change, we will establish accountability and stability at the top, improving educational outcomes for all students across the state,” wrote Ivey in a letter delivered in May to the state board. “Our students and teachers deserve much more from our educational system, and this constitutional amendment is a way forward for Alabama’s future.”

Zeigler said she has a definite issue when legislatures and government choose to take away the voice of the people.

“They are deciding to take away the voice of the people by saying that we are not capable of electing our own state school board,” Zeigler said. “I think it is imperative that we, as citizens, have a voice on who we want in whatever office is up for vote. That includes the state school board.”

Zeigler has been on the board since 2017, and her term does not end until 2021.

“I’m not just saying this because I am on the board,” Zeigler said. “But just the number of phone calls, emails and texts that I receive, the people know that they are in my district and that I am available to them. To me, going into the classrooms and seeing what is happening in our schools is vitally important and I think it is imperative that these elected officials feel a connection with people of the district. With an appointed board, I just don’t see that happening.”

When asked if she believed that the state school board is at fault for the problems in education in Alabama, she said “no.”

“I have an issue that our governor, which is president of the state school board, is deeming that it is necessary that she has more of the capabilities to find people to run the state school board than the citizens of the state of Alabama,” Zeigler said. “I just find it an offense that we, as citizens, are capable of putting the governor and our legislatures into office, and we are brilliant for putting them into office. Then, all of a sudden, we are not so bright when it comes to our elected state school board.”

Zeigler said there is a huge disconnect with what people hear and what people would see if they went into the schools themselves.

“When we read a report that says ‘Alabama schools are in the 48th or 50th in education,’ that is because it is based on a report card, of which our legislators created, and is based on the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores. How can we deem something a plus or a minus based on one form of assessment? I think if people get into the schools and see what glorious things are going on, and see how many of our kids are moving on to higher education, they would think differently. I think I need to do a better job of communicating what great things are going on in our schools and get people away of keying in on one set of test results.”

Under the proposed amendment, the membership of the appointed commission would reflect the geographical, gender and racial diversity of the students enrolled in K-12 education in the state. As enrollment stands currently, three of the nine commission members would be black. Currently, two of the eight elected school board members are black.

Since the bill was passed in both the house and the senate in May, Alabama voters would have to agree to make the change. The idea will go before voters on March 3, 2020, the same day as the presidential and U.S. Senate primary.