Alabama Policy Institute Defends Accountability Act. But Where Is The Beef?

According to its website, The Alabama Policy Institute “is a non-profit, non-partisan research and education organization dedicated to influencing public policy…………..We do this by identifying, developing, and promoting innovative policy ideas and by providing fact-based, objective analysis of key issues.”

OK, if they say so.

However, when you dissect the following op-ed written by staff member Taylor Dawson about the recent defeat of an amendment to the Alabama Accountability Act. it is really hard to figure out where the facts are.  So let’s take a look at what API said:

“Parents with children trapped in failing schools did not have a real school-choice option in Alabama prior to 2013. With the passage of the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA), families zoned for Alabama’s worst-performing schools finally had better opportunities through scholarships and tax credits.”

Really?  The writer should look at info on the Alabama Department of Revenue website before making this statement.  Info shows that in the first quarter of 2017, only three scholarship granting organizations were active.  In all they have 3,897 students on AAA vouchers.  But only 1,302 (33.4 percent) were zoned” to attend a “failing” school.  And even this is mis-leading since it does not show how many students who were ACTUALLY attending a “failing school” changed schools..

And API should note that this law was amended in 2015 to change the intent from helping students in failing schools to assuring school choice.  Shortly after AAA was passed it was amended so that local school boards could declare that they would not accept students from “failing schools” in nearby systems.

As to “better opportunities” perhaps API should point out that of the 201 private schools now participating in the AAA, 80 of them (39.8 percent) are not accredited. How many people working for this organization send their own children to a non-accredited school, like the ones they are promoting?

So to declare that AAA was a blessing to families in certain neighborhoods does not hold much water.

“After a drop of $5.9 million in scholarship donations through the AAA last year, some lawmakers came to this year’s session prepared to remedy the funding problem. Amendments would have improved the law by raising the limit on tax credits that could be claimed for donating to student scholarships, adding a tax credit for utility tax, allowing estates and trusts to donate, and reserving half of the cumulative cap–which would remain unchanged–on donations for individual donors.”

The truth is that AAA has never reached its annual cap in any year.  Could it possibly be that the general public has come to realize this is not the panacea some politicians and others have claimed it was and have grown reluctant to contribute?  Since 90 percent of all students in Alabama attend public schools, maybe some folks have decided we should be putting our money where it can help the most students.  After all, there are 730,000 in public schools and only 3,897 on vouchers.

And no where does API mention that we have now diverted $86 million from the education trust fund to provide vouchers.  Nor do they mention that the scholarship granting organizations can keep five percent of all donations to run this operations.  That’s $4.3 mllion through the end of 2016.

“In February, these amendments passed by a close margin in the Senate. It wasn’t until the last forty-eight hours of the legislative session that SB 123 hit the floor of the House.”

This is true.  Senator Marsh’s amendment only passed the Senate by a 17-15 margin as seven Republicans voted against it.  Many of these “no” vote Republicans are senators who have grown weary of asking questions about the effectiveness of AAA and not getting answers.

“Getting the bill to the House floor wasn’t an easy task, but education reforms rarely are. Enough legislators were swayed by the voices of public-education superintendents and the Alabama Education Association (AEA) to kill the bill. The AEA makes no bones about its intent to keep education in Alabama just the way they like it–even if it means children trapped in failing public schools.

This bill was not just killed–it was stomped flat and left to die.  While only 28 Republicans voted for it, 29 Republicans voted against it.  And the final tally was 59-28.  And why would a legislator not be swayed by their local school superintendents?  After all, who knows better, the Alabama Policy Institute or a local educator, as to where money should be spent.

It is worth noting that this op-ed does not mention what happened after Senator Marsh bill’s died on the last day.  At that point there was a $41 million supplemental appropriation for education waiting for Senate action.  But Senator Marsh killed it.  Republican House member Tim Wadsworth has pointed out that just in his district this bill would have provided $418,482 to Walker County schools and $135,016 for Winston County.  But apparently Senator Marsh decided that if the legislature was not going to provide additional tax breaks for big business, then he wasn’t going to provide additional monies for school kids.

And if Mr. Dawson would like to go visit some of these local superintendents and tell them in person that they have no clue what they are talking about, I will be happy to arrange some visits.  I can be reached: larrylee133@gmail.com

“We should give positive education opportunities to all families, not just families who can afford them. The Alabama Accountability Act needs to be strengthened, and it’s certainly worth another try next session.”

If API really is a research organization, then they should spend some time looking at countless studies showing that vouchers do not work.  Then they could crank up their propaganda machine to promote something worthwhile.

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