The process of electing four members of the State Board of Educating begins with the March 1 Presidential primary.  There are eight elected seats on SBOE.  Four are contested every two years so that terms are staggered.

Seats to be filled this year are District 1 (southwest Alabama), District 3 (central Alabama from Montgomery to Birmingham)” District 5 (Black Belt and southwest Alabama) and District 7 (northwest Alabama).

Current members in these districts are, Matthew Brown–1: Stephanie Bell–3: Ella Bell–5: Jeff Newman–7.  All are running again.  (Brown was appointed to District 1 last July by Governor Bentley.)

Brown has three primary challengers in District 1, as well as a Democrat in the November general election.  Stephanie Bell has one primary opponent and one in the general election.  Ella Bell has one primary opponent and none in the general election.  Newman has two primary opponents, none in the general election. Brown, Stephanie Bell, and Newman are Republicans.  Ella Bell is a Democrat.

I developed a questionnaire for all candidates and with the help of the state Republican party, sent this to all candidates on the ballot in the primary.

Ella Bell is being challenged by Democrat Joanne Shum in the District 5 primary.  Here are her responses.  (I have had no reply from incumbent Ella Bell.)

Joanne Shum

Because of short falls in the state General Fund budget, there is continuing talk of combining the Education Trust Fund and the General Fund.  Do you think these funds should remain separate or be combined?

It is very important these funds continue as two separate funds. I also think the legislature should stop diverting funds from the ETF.

In 2013 the legislature passed the Alabama Accountability Act.  Reports from the state revenue department show that as of Dec. 31, 2015, $66 million has been diverted from the Education Trust Fund to be used for scholarships to private schools.  At least 1,000 scholarships have gone to students who were already attending private schools.  Do you think the Accountability Act is working as it was supposed to?  Do you feel that it has helped students in your district?

The amended Accountability Act is probably working exactly as the sponsors of the bill intended, but it is a dreadful piece of legislation that is taking much needed funds away from public education. Itis certainly harming the District 5 schools.  If the schools had the 66 million plus the taxes the businesses are granted for contributing to the SGO’s (Scholarship Granting Organizations), school buses could be bought, textbooks purchased, libraries supported, professional development provided, and more. The ETF loses money twice with this erroneously named bill—once when students leave public education to attend private schools and again with the tax gift.  I believe this Act should be repealed, and if I am elected, I will do everything I can to persuade legislators to do so.

Recently the draft of a bill known as the Rewarding Advancement in Instruction and Student Excellence (RAISE) Act of 2016 became public. Educators across Alabama have expressed their opposition to this bill. Do you oppose it or support it?

I oppose the RAISE Bill. The RAISE Act is another badly flawed piece of legislation that will damage the teaching profession, hurt students, and cost a lot of money———–money Alabama doesn’t have.

Some things I find especially worrisome are: 1. a new agency that has little or no oversight will be established to maintain test data and scoring information (The Alabama Longitudinal Data System Center,” along with a “Longitudinal Data System Commission).  This will be expensive, intrusive, and established outside of the Alabama Department of Education. Who has oversight?

Two annual evaluations – one by an outside evaluator. This is very time consuming and expensive. Plus, who designs them?  Since so much of a teacher’s evaluation is riding on how a teacher’s class performs on the standardized tests, a great deal of class time will be spent “teaching to the test”.  This is in direct opposition to what parents want for their children and how teachers want to teach.  Children will be regimented and bored to death.  Creativity and ideas will get short shrift in this type of classroom. You can bet I’m opposed to this.  Alabama will be ill served should this pass.

Educators were not asked for input on the Alabama Accountability Act or the RAISE Act.  Do you believe the legislature should formulate education policy without input from Alabama educators?

I don’t think the legislature should be formulating bills that set policy for education; that is the role of the Alabama Department of Education and the Alabama Board of Education—the board elected by the citizens of Alabama. Educators should always be heavily involved whenever strategies to improve and promote education are sought. Teachers are on the front line, and they know what will work and what won’t.

Do you think education is a profession and do you consider teachers to be professionals?

I certainly do believe education is a profession and the most important of all.  Every skill, craft, trade, or profession is taught by teachers. Teachers are professionals and matter a great deal to the wellbeing of a nation. Not only must they know their subject matter, but the best ones are motivators, counselors, nurturers, and appeal to what is finest in human nature as they help students reach for the stars.  Destroy education, and you destroy the future.

What past involvement in public education do you think most qualifies you for a seat on the state board of education?

I have extensive experience with public education and believe strongly in public education as the backbone of our way of life. I understand all facets and will not be fooled or confused by things that come before the board.

I retired as an Education Specialist with Montgomery Public Schools in 2004; I taught elementary school for 16 years before I left the classroom to work as a Title 1 Resource Teacher.  Later, I directed Parents as Teachers, Teen Parenting, an Even Start Child Development Center, a GED Program, Hosted and Produced a TV Show for Parents called “The Parents’ Express”, and established and directed the HIPPY Program for Montgomery Public Schools as well as Alabama.  I am presently serving as the Lowndes County Coordinator of the HIPPY Program (Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters) and the Director of Springboard Education Foundation.

Additionally, I have always worked through the PTA for children. As President of the Floyd PTA and two term President of the Montgomery County Council of PTA’s I initiated and helped see to it that the Minors Display Bill was passed, that Gifted Education was strengthened, and that Kindergarten was implemented.

Did you attend public school for your K-12 education?

Yes, I did attend public school. Many of those years were spent in a country school that I rode to on a school bus.  My three children went to public school and all four grandsons presently attend public schools.  My husband and I are raising two of the boys, so we know exactly what parents are experiencing.