After two failed attempts to remove racist language concerning education from Alabama’s 1901 constitution, Gov. Robert Bentley says he’s more determined than ever to try again to delete vestiges of segregation from the document.
Amendment 4, defeated last week, would have removed language requiring poll taxes and separate black and white schools, but black legislators and the Alabama Education Association opposed it. They argued that removing the language would preserve a 1956 amendment stating that Alabama children did not have a right to a public education.
Gov. Bentley, a Republican, said he would prefer an amendment that only addresses the racist language. He said he is concerned that deleting the 1956 amendment about the right to an education would cause Alabama residents to worry that lawmakers would hike taxes to pay for schooling. But he said he believes removing the racist language would help the state’s image around the country.
Legislators have said the amendment would have to be worded carefully to avoid the difficulties that doomed the first two measures put before voters, the first in 2004.
Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard, a Republican, blamed the defeat on the teachers’ union, which ran television ads against it.
More than 60 percent of voters rejected the measure.
“Anytime you spend hundreds of thousands of dollars airing TV ads that spread outrageous lies with no opposition, a segment of the public is going to believe the lies. Alabama’s image is damaged today, and the trail of evidence leads to AEA’s doorstep,” he said.
But Henry Mabry, the executive secretary of the National Education Association affiliate, said the AEA is not going to support an amendment that takes away a child’s right to an education.
State Rep. Patricia Todd blamed the confusion on the constitution itself. The Democrat is a member of a commission established by the governor to suggest changes to the document.
“This is a perfect example of how bad the constitution is,” she said.
GOP state Rep. Paul DeMarco, a member of the same panel, said it plans to next take up articles relating to education.
A version of this article appeared in the November 15, 2012 edition of Education Week as Ala. Seeks to Change Constitution’s Racist Wording