On June 3, 18 senators voted to approve Senate Bill 71 and send it to Governor Bentley for his signature. This was the amendment to the Alabama Accountability Act sponsored by Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh. While it does tighten reporting requirements for scholarship granting organizations and brings some sorely-needed transparency to the process, it also increases the cap on SGO donations from $25 million to $30 million annually and declares that scholarships to attend private high schools can be as much as $10,000 per year, even though the average SGO scholarship in 2014 was $4,072.
This means an additional $5 million will be diverted from the education trust fund and that private schools can receive much more per student than is now allocated to public schools per pupil.
In short, it will hardly benefit the more than 730,000 students in Alabama public schools.
And while the 18 senators who voted “yea” will each adamantly declare their unwavering support for public education, there is reason to question their commitment. After all, actions do speak louder than words. Underlying this is the fact that SGOs gave at least $4 million in 2014 to students who were already enrolled in private schools. So by their votes, these 18 senators gave their approval to such activity.
These 18 were: Greg Albritton-R; Gerald Allen-R; Dick Brewbaker-R; Clyde Chambliss-R; Gerald Dial-R; Rusty Glover-R; Bill Hightower-R; Del Marsh-R; Steve Livingston-R; Jim McClendon-R; Tim Melson-R; Trip Pittman-R; Greg Reed-R; Larry Stutts-R; Cam Ward-R; Jabo Waggoner-R; Phil Williams-R and Tom Whatley-R.
There were 14 votes in opposition. These were: Billy Beasley-D; Paul Bussman-R; Linda Coleman-D; Priscilla Dunn-D; Vivian Figures-D; Jimmy Holley-R; Bill Holtzclaw-R; Arthur Orr-R; Quinton Ross-D; Paul Sanford-R; Clay Scofield-R; Harri Anne Smith-I; Bobby Singleton-D and Roger Smitherman-D.
Three voted present. They were: Slade Blackwell-R; Hank Sanders-D and Shay Shelnutt. It is noteworthy that five republicans broke rank with their leadership and opposed the bill.
Even more noteworthy is to dig deeper and find out where these 18 senators got their campaign contributions in 2014. Leading the charge for things like charter schools and vouchers last year were political action committees run by former Governor Bob Riley (Alabama 2014 PAC), Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (STORM PAC) and the head of the Business Council of Alabama Billy Canary (Progress PAC). In addition, two organizations primarily funded by and directed by out-of-state entities, StudentsFirst and Alabama Federation for Children, were in lock step with the PACs just mentioned.
Financial records show that the scales were tipped decidedly in the favor of the 18 yes votes when checks were written. In all, they got a grand total of $1,003,384 from the just-named sources. By comparison, the opposing 14 only got $199,138. The million dollars came from: Progress PAC–$648,000; Alabama 2014 PAC–$211,327; STORM PAC–$14,750 (the bulk of money from this PAC went to House candidates); American Federation for Children–$68,348 and StudentsFirst–$60,959.
The five senators who benefited the most were: Phil Williams-$176,779; Gerald Dial–$175,731; Del Marsh-$167,883; Tom Whatley-$110,987 and Gerald Allen-$80,695.
So the next time a legislator says, “I’m doing it for the kids,” ask them how much money “the kids” gave to their last campaign.