Seventy-four percent of school board members who responded to a survey conducted by the Alabama Policy Institute oppose school choice. This is in stark contrast to the overwhelming number of Alabamians, 80%, who desire state-wide school choice expansion.
Recently, API surveyed local school board members across Alabama’s 138 school districts. The goal of the initiative was to inform Alabamians of what their school board members believed on certain issues affecting school districts across the state.
Alabama is one of the few states in the nation with an elected State Board of Education body. In addition to the governor, eight members are elected in partisan elections from eight respective districts. The board members themself appoint the State Superintendent of Education.
On the local level, county school board members are elected by constituents in the school’s district, while city school board members, with the exception of a few districts, are appointed by elected city council members.
While the results from API’s survey offer insight into decisions made in local public schools across Alabama, perhaps the most obvious takeaway is the need for transparency. Out of 732 school board members surveyed, only 120 responded.
API’s efforts included calling local schools, leaving voicemails, sending multiple emails to board members, messaging members on Facebook, and being featured in two 1819 News articles and 1819’s “The Daily Detail.” The survey itself was not time intensive, and board members were ensured their names would never be publicly released. Even so, only 16% of local school board members across the state answered the survey.
Either elected or appointed, board members have a responsibility to their local community and their views on issues should not be secretive. Knowing names were to be kept confidential and the survey was short, it was not unreasonable to expect a response from most board members. Parents and students deserve greater transparency and accountability from their board members who control a major part of the local school narrative. School board members in the state of Alabama should be held more accountable and their decisions should not go unchecked.
While the response rate was not ideal, the results offer a window into how some local board members view key issues. Questions ranged from demographic-based questions to hot-button issues.
On the issues, results reveal:
- 74% oppose school choice, an educational structure where the money follows the child to a school of his/her choice whether the school is public or private. This statistic contrasts to the 80% of Alabamians who desire state-wide school choice expansion.
- 68% favor social-emotional learning (SEL), which is school directed learning, often combined with a progressive value system, focused not on academic subjects but on developing student identity, managing emotions, achieving personal/collective goals, and decision making.
- 19% said students and teachers should be required to state their pronouns and another 18% said students and teachers should be encouraged to do so.
- 73% support diversity training: 34% said both students and teachers should be required to go through mandatory diversity training, 28% said it should be encouraged for both students and teachers, and 11% said teachers only should be required to do so.
- 22% said schools should make an effort to equalize academic outcomes based on either race and/or gender.
- 46% said schools were shut down the right amount of time during COVID-19 and 6% said schools were not shut down long enough.
- 60% said public institutions of higher learning should require standardized test scores.
- 83% said local schools boards should have had more control over the State BOE when to shut down, institute mask mandates, and implement other pandemic responses.
Demographically speaking, 79% of board members are either current or former parents or grandparents of students in the district where they serve; current parents or grandparents make up 44% of the board members. Sixty-one percent have never been an educator, and 10% currently hold an educator position. Thirty-five percent of members reported having relatives employed by their school district or by the Alabama State BOE. Twenty-three percent are either current or former teacher union members.
API also surveyed the current Alabama State Board of Education members and candidates on similar questions, and those results are actively being collected. Please encourage the state board member in your district to fill out API’s survey. Board members who would like to receive another copy of the survey to complete may email firstname.lastname@example.org.