By State Rep. Craig Ford
The state legislative session has come to an end, but legislators won’t be the ones making the most important decision our government will make this year.
The State Board of Education will make that decision in April, when it selects our next State Superintendent of Education.
For all of the high-profile issues that have been raised in this legislative session, public education is still the most important issue our state government is responsible for. The education budget is three times the size of the general fund budget, and what happens in education can impact everything else, including job creation and even prison overcrowding.
Gov. Kay Ivey has pointed out that if a child can’t read at a third-grade level by the time that child is in the third grade, then that child has a much higher chance of ending up in prison.
To put it another way – if we don’t invest in education, we will have to invest more in prisons.
Education is also critical to creating jobs. When we are trying to recruit businesses to our state, the first thing they look at is the local schools to make sure that the local workforce is educated enough to do the job (they also look at local health care and infrastructure, but those are topics for a different editorial).
So, we have to have a state superintendent of education who is right for the job and makes the right decisions. And we saw with our last superintendent just how badly things can go wrong when we have the wrong person in the job.
Our last superintendent, Michael Sentance, resigned before he could be fired. But his time as superintendent should be a lesson in what not to do. From financial mismanagement to keeping the board of education in the dark about crucial decisions to just plain bad policy choices – if it could be done wrong, Mr. Sentance found a way to do it wrong.
Thankfully, I believe a lot of lessons have been learned from that experience, and I believe our next superintendent will be much more capable.
The deadline for applying for the position was last Friday, and while we do not know who all has applied, we do know that at least one local and highly qualified candidate is in the mix in Dr. Craig Pouncey.
Dr. Pouncey almost won the job last time, losing to Mr. Sentance by a vote of 5-4.
Dr. Pouncey is a career educator with experience at the highest levels of the State Department of Education. Since 2014, he has served as superintendent for the Jefferson County School System, and last October he was named Superintendent of the Year by the School Superintendents of Alabama organization.
Dr. Pouncey is immensely qualified and capable and has spent his entire career in the Alabama Public School System. I’m sure there will be other excellent candidates as well. And I look forward to working with whomever the board of education chooses.
While I do not get to vote for our next superintendent, I do hope the members of the board of education will keep some priorities in mind when making its choice.
First, our next superintendent needs to understand that measuring the success of a school is about more than just standardized test scores. There’s a place for test scores, but we also need to consider factors such as student attendance, disciplinary issues, total funding per student and several other factors that can all make a difference in the success of students and schools. In other words, we need a complete picture and not just a snapshot of one aspect of education.
Second, we must have a superintendent who understands the importance of career tech and vocational education. Only half of all Alabamians have attended college, and only about a quarter of Alabamians possess a college degree. So, while college readiness is important, we can’t afford to ignore trade school and career tech education.
Lastly, we need a superintendent who is committed to expanding the state’s pre-K program. Pre-K is a bipartisan priority and gets results. Our next superintendent must share that vision with the rest of the state’s leadership.
The legislature made a lot of important decisions this year (though others were left unresolved). But the most important decision to be made is who will be our next superintendent of ed-ucation.
I hope the board of education will make the right choice.
Craig Ford is an Independent who represents Gadsden and Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives. He served as the House Minority Leader from 2010-2016.