Biting the Hand that Used to Feed You

Someone needs to remind former House member John Hilliard that you just can’t put enough lipstick on some pigs to disguise them. This is what Hilliard recently tried to do when he wrote an editorial praising the Alabama Accountability Act and attacking the Alabama Education Association.

However, he ran out of lipstick long before this “pig” was covered up.

It is interesting that Hilliard jumped on AEA for opposing this act, while ignoring the fact that EVERYONE involved in education did as well. This includes the State Board of Education, the state superintendent of education, the school board association, the superintendents association, etc.

In fact, not a single member of the black caucus in the House (a group Hilliard once belonged to) supported this bill.

Hilliard is state director of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, a group started in 1999 to push for vouchers. Dr. Howard Fuller was one of the primary organizers and has served as BAEO board chair for years. He was superintendent of Milwaukee public schools from 1991-95. This system has the oldest voucher program in the country.

But research has never deemed the Milwaukee voucher program a success. Two years ago public school students outscored students on the voucher program in both math and reading. Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts, the top Democrat on the education committee said voucher students, parents and taxpayer are being “bamboozled.” “We’ve spent well over $1 billion on a failed experiment,” she added.

But why let facts get in the way, especially when your organization is being bankrolled by the Walton Family Foundation, one of the country’s leading funders of voucher and school choice efforts. According to IRS tax records, BAEO got 27% of its total funding in 2011 from this foundation.

And while Hilliard may not know much about education policy, his financial disclosure forms when he was in the legislature show that he definitely knows about raising money.

For instance, from 1994-2010 he received $30,250 in contributions from AEA’s PAC. This was obviously before he started calling them names in the newspaper.

We’ve all heard the old saying that a politician said, “Some of my friends are for it and some of my friends are against it—and I’m for all of my friends.” No one gives more meaning to this than Hilliard who took campaign money from the Business Council of Alabama—and the trial lawyers. He took money from ALFA—and labor unions.

Knowing this about him probably explains why he is now opposing former friends. Apparently his world is about money—not core values.

It’s for sure that he is ignoring the truth about the Alabama Accountability Act and its impact on the very students he claims to want to help.

The AAA required the state department of education to come up with a list of “failing schools.” They determined there were 78 schools in this category, with a total of 30,846 students. (No one bothered to compile a similar list of failing private schools even though a recent study of 300,000 elementary and middle school students in 15,000 public, charter and private schools show that students in public schools outperform those in private schools in math.)

Some 14 Black Belt systems have schools on the failing list. They have 7,126 students, 95 percent of them black and 94 percent receiving free-reduced lunches.

How did AAA help these kids? Only TWO private schools in these 14 counties agreed to take transferring students. Only 39 kids transferred to another school in their system, only six transferred to a school in another system and only ONE transferred to a private school.

So while Hilliard and BAEO sing the praises of vouchers only ONE out of 7,126 eligible students in 14 Black Belt school systems was helped.

To do this we punched a $40 million hole in the education trust fund to cover possible expenses. That’s $40 million that could have been used to buy new textbooks, reduce class sizes and get new buses for children all over the state.

This is progress? This is a positive step forward for black students in poverty?

If BAEO is genuinely interested in helping, then for starters they need to tell the Walton Foundation that early childhood education across the Black Belt will have far more impact than vouchers ever will. They should be trying to get more resources for public education, not diverting them. And they don’t need to waste more money on lipstick.

 

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