From time to time one of the folks working for an Alabama scholarship granting organization speaks out.  Which is well, fine and good and what they are paid to do.

However, more often that not their message is long on fluff and short on facts and simply ignores the larger picture involving public education in Alabama.  Here is the latest example, penned by my friend Lesley Searcy, who runs the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund.

Some 22 local schools board have now passed resolutions calling on the legislature to repeal the Alabama Accountability Act.  They represent more than 200,000 students in public schools.  So Lesley starts off by chiding these boards for turning their back on underprivileged students.

But considering that there are 722,000 students in public schools and only 3,600 on scholarships to private schools, who is turning their back on children who really need help?  Who is taking money from 722,000 students to help only 3,600?  How is that equity?

And what Lesley does not seem to understand is that public schools systems are SUPPOSED to work for kids in public schools, not those in private schools.  I was on the Montgomery school board last October when we passed a repeal resolutions.  Every school board member in the state is required to sign an affirmation that they “shall actively promote public support for the school system.”   I find it ironic that Lesley thinks we should ignore the oath we took and the affirmation we signed.

She also states that there is a waiting list of 20,000 students wanting to attend a private school on a scholarship.  But I don’t understand this as numbers from the SGOs themselves show that we had 5,792 scholarships in 2014, but only 3,668 in 2018.  SGOs say they have raised $106.8 million since 2014.  At $6,500 per scholarship that is enough to fund 16,430.  But only 12,750 have been awarded since 2014.

So the numbers ain’t adding up.  And here is something else that doesn’t add up.  Since the program began in 2013, SGOs have raised $145 million but only awarded $90.7 million in scholarships.  Where is that other $55 million?

Granted, SGOs get to keep up to five percent of their contributions for admin expenses.  In the case of the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund, this is $3,308,688 since they have raised $66.l million.

The irony here is that every dollar raised for scholarships is a dollar diverted from the state’s Education Trust Fund for the support of public schools.  So SGOs are taking money that should go to public schools and using it to try and divert more money from public schools  This seems a bit like Nick Saban paying for an Auburn assistant football coach.

Lesley also states that a report from the University of Alabama says that scholarship students are doing better in private school than if they were in public schools.  I have looked at this report.  I spent an hour recently with Dr. Joan Barth of the University of Alabama who did the research and wrote this report.

If scholarship students are outperforming others, Dr. Barth failed to tell me.  In fact, here is exactly what the report says:

Findings of Objective 2: Compare the learning achievement of scholarship recipients to students attending public schools.

  • There were very few subject areas in which more than 50% of the students met proficiency standards for either group of students.
  •  For the ACT Aspire, comparisons did not present a clear pattern across subjects and grade levels to indicate that one group performed better or worse than the other. 
  • Overall, scholarship recipients in the 11th grade performed about the same as their public school counterparts on the ACT.

Pardon me, but darn if I can see how this supports the contention that scholarship students are doing better than their peers.

Finally, Lesley makes the point of stating that three-fourths of scholarship recipients are African American, Hispanic or multiracial.  I would remind her that we have 163,000 African American students in Alabama who can not afford to buy their lunch.

Who is looking out for them?  Don’t they matter?

Truth is, public schools are looking out for them because they do matter.