Alabama Governor Appoints Conservative Fundamentalist With No Experience to Oversee Public Education

It’s every public educator’s nightmare – and is consistent with the philosophy of a political party that presumes to govern even as it continues to criticize the very institution of government. Republican governor Robert J. Bentley of Alabama has appointed an individual to head the State Board of Education who is about as qualified for the job as a high school biology student is to perform brain surgery.

Matthew Brown is 28 years old. A county highway design engineer, he has never attended public school in his life. He is opposed to the idea of public education, and has stated that he will never allow his children to attend a public school. Earlier this year, Brown was the poster boy for a campaign against an education tax that was up for a vote. According to Alabama journalist and education blogger Larry Lee, that campaign was “contentious and divisive,” and the Alabama Secretary of State reported that Brown’s tactics violated provisions of the Fair Campaign Practices Act.

Despite Brown’s record – and against the advice of his staff and education leaders – Governor Bentley has placed this unqualified, inexperienced, openly biased 28-year-old in charge of public education in the Heart of Dixie. The appointment comes at an exceptionally bad time for Alabama’s public school systems. Population growth and significant increases in enrollment are putting a strain on education resources – in large part because of Matthew Brown’s efforts in defeating the education tax last March.

So, why did Bentley appoint Brown? According a report from Raw Story, the governor promised that Brown would “bring a ‘unique perspective’ to the Board of Education.”

Matt Brown is also a (very) young man after Bentley’s own heart. Since taking office in 2011, Bentley has signed off on a law allowing the transfer of up to $30 million a year away from public education to voucher programs. Another law passed on his watch allows charter schools to open across Alabama and gives a state commission the authority to approve charter schools over the objection of local school boards.

So just what are Matt Brown’s qualifications for the job (beyond Governor Bentley’s personal liking for him)? He holds an undergraduate degree from Pensacola Christian College, and studied law at Samford University. Beyond that, he has neither experience in, nor love for the field of public education.

But at least Brown believes in Jesus.

There is nothing wrong with holding personal religious convictions – but such convictions and beliefs are hardly qualifications for public office. To the contrary, under Article Six of the U.S. Constitution, “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

But don’t try telling that to Governor Bentley. As one commenter on Larry Lee’s blog put it: “[This is] another absurd action by a ‘leader’ of our state. No wonder we are the laughing stock of the country!”

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.