Back to the Future–Alabama Style

Just as Marty McFly rode Doc Brown’s time machine back in time in the movie, Back to the Future, the legislature pulled off their own version of time travel in the just-concluded session. But instead of doing it on a Hollywood movie set, they did it in the Alabama Statehouse.

The script for this episode was written in 2013 and named the Alabama Accountability Act. The screenwriters sung its praises and vowed to one and all that this would be the salvation for “poor kids stuck in failing schools by their zip code.” Just like happens in Hollywood, it would forever alter the landscape of Alabama education and we would all ride off into the sunset with huge smiles and endlessly praising our legislative leadership.

We all knew this to be so because right there at the beginning of the bill it said:

(b) Therefore, it is the intent of the Legislature to do all of the following:

(1) Allow school systems greater flexibility in meeting the educational needs of a diverse student population.

(2) Improve educational performance through greater individual school autonomy and managerial flexibility with regard to programs and budgetary matters.

(3) Encourage innovation in education by providing local school systems and school administrators with greater control over decisions including, but not limited to, budgetary matters, staffing, personnel, scheduling, and educational programming, including curriculum and instruction.

(4) Provide financial assistance through an income tax credit to a parent who transfers a student from a failing public school to a nonfailing public school or nonpublic school of the parent’s choice.

The heart of the bill was No. 4, to help students escape failing schools. No ifs, ands or buts. In language that is straightforward and concise.

Then earlier this year a strange thing happened.  An amendment to the original accountability act was introduced and lo and behold, the language outlining the bill’s intent said not a word about failing schools. Instead, it states:

This bill would clarify and confirm that the intent of the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013 is educational choice and would amend certain definitions and provisions of the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013

Like Marty McFly we journeyed back in time to reshape history. What happened to salvation for “poor kids stuck in failing schools by their zip codes?” Was that just a slip of the tongue two years ago? Two years ago there was no bill allowing charter schools. But was that the intent of the accountability act all along? To talk endlessly about bad public schools, create a groundswell for school choice and get a charter bill in place?

Hollywood deals in fantasy worlds. The legislature is supposed to deal with the real world. But at the end of the day, do we really know which is which?

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