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Bentley makes poor choice with Brown for state board of education

CW / Noah Huguley

Kyle Simpson

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A lot of attention has been paid to Gov. Robert Bentley’s recent appointment to the Alabama State Board of Education. On July 16, the governor appointed Matthew Brown of Fairhope to serve as board member for District 1, which encompasses counties in south Alabama, including my home county of Baldwin, the fastest growing county in the state. The appointment was met with significant resistance, as many see Brown’s presence on the board as a sign of the wrong direction Alabama’s public education is heading overall.

Matthew Brown, a 28-year-old transportation planner with the Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organization, has no experience with public education. He gained notoriety when he ran the bewilderingly named “Educate Baldwin Now” campaign, a movement to defeat the March 2015 property tax referendum which would have paid for new Baldwin County school buildings. Baldwin County residents, at the urging of Brown’s campaign, voted down the proposal, despite the fact that Mr. Brown’s own organization put out a study showing Baldwin County’s desperate need for over 16 new schools over the next few years. Inexplicably, the man that worked to defeat the public school system now has a part in running it.

In a statement, Mr. Brown said he looks forward to working “to ensure that our children are prepared to compete and be successful in Alabama and around the world.” However, he himself did not attend public school in high school or college, and has said that his children won’t either. The fact that a man tasked with maintaining the quality of public education in the state thinks that the schools aren’t good enough for his own children is appalling, and quite telling of his political motivations. He has no confidence in our state’s public education, and seems to have no interest in making it any better.

At the special session of the state legislature, lawmakers are arguing about how to pay for huge budget deficits created by the insufficient revenue brought in by our rock-bottom tax rates rather than the woefully underfunded public education system. That speaks to how pathetic the state of Alabama’s leadership is. In a report from the U.S. News & World Report, Alabama is tied for last in the nation, having zero high schools rank among those that are “most successfully preparing students for college.” A 2014 Wallethub ranking with metrics such as dropout rate, class size and test scores put Alabama at 49th place for K-12 education, ahead of Mississippi.

Brown and Bentley’s supporters will likely retreat to the usual defenses, like criticism of the AEA, school district inefficiencies, school choice vouchers or other tired excuses. The fact is, Alabama has one of the worst public school systems in the country (and likely the developed world). Teachers are poorly paid and school infrastructure in the state is in desperate need of improvement. School choice vouchers will make struggling school systems even worse, widening the gap between lower-class Alabamians and the rest of the state. We need leaders in our state government that will stand up for public education, which improves the lives of all Alabamians. As a product of the Alabama public school system, I know that public schools can be excellent in preparing students for higher education and the workforce. Public education is a pillar of society, and it is vital that we support it. Continuing down the current path would jeopardize the future of our schools, and surely, the future of our state.

Kyle Simpson is junior majoring in biology. His column runs biweekly.

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Bentley makes poor choice with Brown for state board of education