Marie Manning, the District 6 representative on the Alabama State Board of Education, takes the oath of office on Jan. 16, 2023. (Stew Milne/Special to the Reflector)
Marie Manning often tells a story that she wanted to be a teacher because one of her teachers was the only other person she knew with red hair.
“Oh, isn’t that a hoot,” she said when asked about it.
Her motivation for being involved in education changed from that initial hair reason, but she didn’t realize how it would.
Manning now serves as the District 6 board member for the Alabama State Board of Education, covering areas of northeast and east central Alabama. She took the place of Cynthia McCarty, who did not run for reelection.
Manning said she decided to run because she thought she “could be a help.”
“I felt like I had something to give that I had a background and will maybe be helpful,” Manning said. “And I believe that it will.”
She grew up in rural DeKalb County and graduated from Crossville High School. At Jacksonville State University, she majored in biology and did summer coursework for education.
Manning’s educational career lasted over 32 years and touched multiple corners of the educational system. She worked as a teacher for four and a half years, but took a year off after her husband died, just seven months after their child was born. When she returned to school, she worked as a library media specialist from 1977 to 1993.
Her principal began involving her in the administrative processes, telling her that she had the personality for it. She then became assistant principal for one year, and later went to another school to work as the principal for four years.
Under her leadership, the middle school improved, she said.
“And I really enjoyed that,” Manning said. “I love taking a school and moving it forward.”
In St. Clair County, Manning served a four years as superintendent, an elected position in the area.
On her campaign’s website, Manning is described as conservative Republican, citing her “conservative budgeting,” “common sense conservatism” and “conservative Alabama values.” The first page of her website cites Manning’s experience with school finances.
When asked about how that experience would translate to the State Board of Education, Manning said she thinks that her past experience with curriculum will be a benefit to the board. At the moment, she says, the board is collecting information to help them decide on subjects of study. Manning said her only goal is ensuring that the information is accurate.
Alabama has historically hovered near the bottom of education rankings, most notably on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as the “nation’s report card.”
There have been some hopeful signs for education recently. Test scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or “nation’s report card,” revealed that Alabama had less learning loss than many other states after the pandemic. Alabama’s scores didn’t improve – they remained relatively static – but with other states experiencing drops, the state rose in the rankings.
The Alabama Literacy Act, which generallty requires third graders to read on grade level before advancing to fourth grade, went into effect this school year after several pandemic-related delays.
The Alabama Numeracy Act, signed into law last spring, will provide more support for schools to raise math scores.
Manning also said that Alabama’s curriculum standards line up with the standards of the NAEP test.
“And I know as a student in college, it was very disappointing to go in to take a test and that test covered material I’ve never seen nor heard of before,” she said. “So, I think you’ll see Alabama continue to do better because we’re writing the standards that will meet that particular test.”
Manning’s campaign website also said she opposes teaching critical race theory in K-12 schools.
Critical race theory is an academic theory that looks at the intersection of law, race and racial justice. The movement’s principal founders, including Kimberle W. Crenshaw, Neal Gotanda, Gary Peller and Kendall Thomas, were legal scholars. Critical race theory was mainly taught in colleges and law schools, and Alabama education officials have repeatedly stressed it was never included in a state curriculum.
When asked about including the subject in her platform, given that K-12 does not teach critical race theory, Manning said she had included the topic because it was a buzzword at the time, and she’s happy that the State Board and Legislature both established that it was not a K-12 issue. The State Board of Education banned Critical Race Theory in October 2021, before Manning announced her candidacy in January 2022.
Her website, under the “Common Sense Conservative” moniker, also addressed transgender students in schools. When asked about it, Manning said that she agreed with the Legislature’s decision to ban the use of puberty blockers and hormones in gender-affirming care for minors.
“Because we all know that young students go through phases,” she said.
Gender-affirming care for minors is performed in Alabama with parents involved in every step of the process. Transgender youth, as well as their families and physicians who work with them, say access to the medications are critical to their well-being. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health recommends an individualized approach for treating gender dysphoria.
Beyond curriculum, Manning also said she considers coaches important in providing professional development for teachers.
Manning said that the bulk of the board’s role is performing what was asked of them by the legislature. This session, she’s hoping that some of the surplus budget will be given to school systems in need. She also said that she’s expecting conversations around charter schools and voucher programs, but she doesn’t know what those might look like.
“I’m interested in seeing what they’re going to be asking for,” she said. “I don’t want us to kill public education. I think public education is critical. And I think public education does a good job.”
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