Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Alabama constitution on the ballot

The section dealing with education in Alabama state constitution is on the ballot in that state next Tuesday, and the decision involves everything from segregation to school funding:

The dispute goes back to a section of the 1901 Constitution dealing with education, which says the state shall maintain “a liberal system of public schools,” before dictating that those schools remain separate for white and black children.That remained the law until 1956, when, after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, the state’s political leaders sought a way around integration. They passed an amendment that, among other things, explicitly denied “any right to education or training at public expense,” thus letting the state transfer public schools to private operators.The status of that 1956 amendment is a matter for debate. In 1991, a trial court judge ruled the amendment unconstitutional in a case involving the adequacy of school financing in Alabama. The State Supreme Court dismissed the underlying case in 2002, but its decision and the various concurrences left so little clarity that it remains uncertain what exactly the constitutional status of the amendment is today.The 2004 attempt to strip the vestigial racist language would have left standing the 1901 clause mandating a liberal system of public schools. Some of the state’s influential conservative leaders saw this as leading to expanded financing for public education. Arguing that the whole thing was a plot to raise taxes, they narrowly won the campaign for the amendment’s defeat.Last year, a Republican state senator, Arthur Orr, who says he was troubled by the Constitution’s continuing deterrent effect on economic development, introduced the proposal again. His version, after some revisions, did not include the language about public schools that prompted the antitax backlash, but retains the clause from the 1956 amendment denying the right to a public education.

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