In a runoff primary election in southern Alabama for state Board of Education, longtime school principal Jackie Zeigler is so manifestly and unambiguously the best choice that it would be embarrassing for voters to choose her opponent.
To recap: Zeigler spent 37 years as a teacher and administrator in southern Alabama public schools, including 14 as principal of Blue Ribbon, award-winning Mary B. Austin Elementary School.
Her opponent, Matthew Brown, has had no experience with public schools at all, and very little discernible experience even with education of any sort.
Zeigler stresses a back-to-basics approach, with teachers enjoying high degrees of both automony and accountability. Brown — well, who knows?
Brown was appointed to the board last summer by disgraced governor Robert Bentley, in what many described as a political deal with Budget Committee Chairman Trip Pittman. He has not distinguished himself in his time on the board.
He certainly has not distinguished himself as a straight shooter. Given literally dozens of opportunities, from multiple people, to publicly pronounce himself an opponent of the terribly misguided, one-size-fits-all Common Core system, and to promise to repeal the 2010 state school board resolution that aligned Alabama with the Core, Brown declined every time. He hinted again and again that he opposed the Core, but refused to be pinned down, and told numerous people that if he publicly opposed it, then big-money political action committees supportive of the Core would bury him in campaign spending on behalf of an opponent.
Well, as it turns out, those same big-money PACs have instead dumped truckloads of money, well over $100,000, into the race on Brown’s behalf. This includes a PAC whose major focus is supporting Common Core.
Yet now, having severely under-performed in the first round of primary balloting — he finished a very distant second place — Brown suddenly has announced that he is against Common Core. His announcement comes in the abundance of glossy mailers overwhelming our mailboxes in recent days — mailers paid for, in effect, by donations from those same PACs that support Common Core.
This is very strange.
But there’s an explanation. You see, Alabama’s current board says that its own state standards are Alabama’s own, not a carbon copy of Common Core. The board says as much because it took the trouble to change about 3 percent of the words in Common Core and, while keeping the rest intact, claiming that the minor word changes somehow make our standards materially different.
So Brown can say that he “opposes Common Core” because he supports our current standards, which the truth-shifters claim isn’t really the Core at all. The truth is that if he actually opposes the Core, he has a funny way of showing it: In nine months on the board, Brown has not even lifted a finger to improve our standards, much less to repeal the key 2010 resolution.
If he is truly against Common Core, he would move to repeal that resolution — as a first and necessary, but far from sufficient, step towards replacing the Core with standards truly worthy of Alabama.
This, he has not done. This, he will not do.
But what he does is try to hedge and haw, hint that he feels one way but not actually say it, accuse people of bad faith when they call him on his own inconsistencies or lack of candor, and in general act like a politician trying to have it both ways at once or even every which way but loose.
But follow the money. It is astonishing how much money this young man is spending, almost all of it from PACs rather than from individual donors, on a primary for state school board. Those PACs do not give to candidates that oppose their own most fervent desires.
Again, Common Core is far from the only issue in play. But it is the biggest one.
Alabama has a choice between a typical young politician on the make, looking for a run up the political ladder, and an experienced, dedicated, award-winning educator who can devote her full time to the job just as she has already dedicated her whole professional career to educating Alabama’s children and doing it demonstrably well.
We must choose Jackie Zeigler.