Alabama Policy Institute Needs To Do Some Homework

So here comes the Alabama Policy Institute with an effort to promote the Alabama Accountability Act that is simply woeful, amateurish and sloppy.  Go here to see what I mean.  Instead of facts to support their claims, they just blow smoke.  Fake news at its finest.

It’s not that numbers are not available, many of them on the Alabama Revenue Department website, devoted to the accountability act, but when numbers do not support your propaganda, why use them?

There are so many incorrect statements in this API piece it is difficult to know where to begin taking them to task.

Let’s begin with this statement: “The AAA also rights one of Alabama’s historic wrongs–specifically the segregation of schools–as it broadly offers educational choice that was historically limited to the majority population”

Wrong.  As we pointed out in this article from Nov. 13, 2015, on average private schools getting AAA scholarships tend to be very segregated, either very black or very white.

Or what about this one: “The AAA has proven successful in taking students out of some of the most dangerous and underperforming schools in the nation and putting them in environments that are not only academically challenging, but safe.”

Wrong again.  At the end of this past September there were 3,668 students on scholarships statewide.  Of these, only 1,226 (33.4%) were “zoned” for failing schools.  Remember, “zoned” does not mean they were attending a failing school, just in that school zone.  So the actual number of kids leaving these schools is actually much, much less.

API says we currently have 4,000+ Alabama students currently using AAA scholarships.

Wrong again.  State records show that five scholarship granting organizations now in operation have given out 3,668 scholarships through the end of September 2018.  How hard is it just to get numbers right?

But the biggest travesty of what API espouses is that AAA should be ignored because it involves such a small amount of the Education Trust Fund.  I don’t know if they are referring to the annual tax diversion of $30 million allowed by AAA from the Education Trust Fund or the $146.6 million that has been diverted since 2013, but it really doesn’t matter.

Because this argument is an INSULT to every public school educator in the state.  Having just been on the Montgomery County school board, I know first hand how desperate schools and teachers are for proper funding.  And to blow off either $30 million or $146.6 million as trivial shows how out of touch API is.

Erin Reed teaches first grade at Peter Crump elementary in Montgomery.  She has 16 boys and six girls in her class.  A few days ago I gave her $236 to purchase something for her classroom.  To date, AAA has diverted $201 per student from every child in Alabama public schools.  That is $4,422 from Erin’s class.

API says she should not be concerned?  That she should not pay attention to a few million here and a few million there.  How insulting.

API claims they are a CONSERVATIVE group.  That’s a joke.  Conservatives do not cavalierly dismiss millions of dollars as if they are meaningless.

More and more education and community leaders alike realize that the Alabama Accountability Act was a promise that was not kept and question its value.  And propaganda like this from API helps them see how right they are.

 

 

 

Back To The Beginning

It has now been almost six years since the legislature pulled a “fast one” on public education in Alabama by passing the Alabama Accountability Act.  And with more and more people realizing that the bill has never been what it was touted to be, I thought it might be useful to go all the way back to the very first post on this blog written the day after AAA was crammed down our throats.

At last count, I have written more than 70 articles on this topic.  For anyone wishing to do some homework, I suggest you look at the menu on the right side of this page that shows articles by categories.  Click on “accountability act” to find them all.

The Birth of the Alabama Accountability Act
by Larry Lee | Mar 1, 2013

School kids make a poor rope in a political tug of war.

Anyone in Alabama who doesn’t believe this should’ve been in Montgomery Feb. 28 when the Republican controlled legislature voted to approve what some reporters called “a legislative bombshell.” The Senate approved what is officially known as the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013 on a vote of 22-11. The House of Representatives’ vote was 51-26.

It’s hard to tell if opponents were more upset about the contents of the bill or the tactics used to get it approved.

But one thing is certain, in spite of protestations by those on the prevailing side; this battle was not about school kids. If it was about education, why did Dr. Tommy Bice, the state’s superintendent of education, not know about it? After all he is the one person most accountable for the education of 735,000 public school students.

Why did the State Board of Education, with six elected Republican members and two elected Democratic members not know about it? After all, they are the only elected body in the state whose sole responsibility is overseeing education policy.

If this was really about education, why did the Republican leader of the Senate, who says he’d worked on this for a week, tell reporters that he worked hard to keep what he was doing a secret from even those who had signed on in good faith to support the original bill?

“We knew they would oppose what we were trying to do,” he said.

Interpretation: Since we had hatched up a scheme to fundamentally change public education in this state, the last thing we wanted was input from professional educators.

Yep, makes sense to me. Maybe next time the legislature will tackle a healthcare issue. I sure hope they make sure no doctors or nurses know what they are doing.

What was the scheme used to pass the bill?

Go to a conference committee composed of three House members and three Senators (Four Republicans and two Democrats) where each body is supposed to iron out their differences and report the compromises back to their respective bodies. But instead of doing this, an eight page bill went into the committee and morphed into one of 28 pages that was much different than the original bill.

This is when the fur hit the fan because the rules of both bodies prevent a conference committee from reporting out a bill that is substantially different than the original one. But obviously when you are doing something for school kids, why pay attention to rules? After all, isn’t that what we all teach our own kids to do, just ignore the rules you don’t like.

As I think of all of this I keep thinking back to the night of Feb. 19 when the State Department of Education recognized 20 high-poverty schools (the very kind of schools the backers of this legislation say they are so concerned about) as Torchbearer Schools.

All 140 members of the House and Senate were invited to attend this event by Governor Bentley. Only one Senator came. It was not the majority leader. Maybe he was hidden away somewhere working on legislation to benefit education and didn’t have time to visit with 20 of the top principals in Alabama and ask for their input.

Time after time we hear legislative leaders talk about “Alabama values.” Is this what we saw in practice this week? I was born in Alabama. Mother and Daddy were born in Alabama. Grandma and Grandpa were born in Alabama. So I’m about as qualified to know our “values” as anyone. And what was on display in Montgomery Feb. 28 bore no resemblance to the Alabama values I was taught.

But the only value any of us really need to heed is on page 1,414 of my King James Version of the Bible. Matthew 7:12—Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.

It’s a sad day for all of us when our political leadership tramples on such a simple truth.

Tallapoosa County Latest To Call For Accountability Act Repeal

The list of local school boards calling for the repeal of the Alabama Accountability Act increased on Nov. 27 when the Tallapoosa County board joined with earlier efforts by Mobile, Baldwin and Montgomery school boards.

The vote was a unanimous 5-0.  In fact, it was an enthusiastic unanimous.  Dr. Betty Carol Graham, retired educator and a former four term member of the Alabama House of Representatives, said that she has been opposed to the legislation since it was enacted in 2013.

“The fact that this act takes money away from small school systems like ours (Tallapoosa County has three high schools and just under 3,000 students) makes no sense at all,” said superintendent Joe Windle.  “We do an excellent job of managing our money–but every penny is important and we don’t need to take money from the state’s Education Trust Fund that could go into our classrooms.”

Here is the Tallapoosa resolution in its entirety:

TALLAPOOSA COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION DADEVILLE, ALABAMA

Resolution for Accountability Act Repeal

WHEREAS, the legislation known as the Alabama Accountability Act was passed in 2013 with no guidance or input from educators; and in a bait and switch operation and

WHEREAS, this act has caused a negative financial impact on Tallapoosa County

WHEREAS, this act was initially touted as a way to help students who attended “failing schools” by offering them a pathway to non-failing schools or scholarships to private schools; and

WHEREAS, various studies have consistently shown that less than 35 percent of all scholarships go to students “zoned” for “failing schools”; and

WHEREAS, research from the University of Alabama about academic achievement of students in the Alabama Accountability Act shows, “In 78 percent of the comparisons made between scholarship recipients and public school students, there was no statistically significant difference between the scholarship recipients and students attending public schools;” and

WHEREAS, each dollar designated for scholarships is a dollar diverted from the Alabama Education Trust Fund; and

WHEREAS, since 2013 the total amount of such donations is $146.6 million, which amounts to over $686,000 dollars for Tallapoosa County Schools; and

WHEREAS, the Tallapoosa County School System has struggled the last 14 years to meet one month operating expense and maintain a balanced budget; and

WHEREAS, AAA labels schools, faculty, staff and students as failing when academic growth is being shown in these schools each year;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Tallapoosa County Board of Education strongly recommends to the Alabama Legislature that the Alabama Accountability Act be repealed when the legislature meets in regular session in 2019.

Adopted this 27^ day of November, 2018

 

Things That Make You Go “Hmmmmmmm”

Recently the Montgomery County school board (which I am on until the end of November) passed a resolution calling on our legislative delegation to work to repeal the Alabama Accountability Act.  The Baldwin County board had already passed a resolution and now Mobile County has as well.

Within hours my email inbox began to fill up with notes from parents in the Montgomery area asking that I not take away their child’s scholarship to a private school.  I politely replied to each that the accountability act is a creation of the legislature and local school boards have no power to do anything other than express their concern about how it is impacting their local budget.

I found it interesting that the majority of these emails came from parents with children in one particular Montgomery private school where more than 40 percent of their student body gets an AAA scholarship.  As best I can determine this school is owned by one person and is not affiliated with any non-profit group or organization.

Several days later I sent the following email to each parent who had contacted me:

“You are one of several who recently emailed me regarding Montgomery public schools and students getting scholarships to private schools.  again, I appreciate you taking the time to contact me.  It did not go unnoticed.

I would love to have the opportunity to talk to you, and the others who wrote me, about this situation.  Specifically, I would like to know of your concerns about MPS and what steps you may have taken to address them with school personnel.  Without doubt this school system has issues.  And I think it is only when we have honest and forthright discussions about them that we will make progress.

Would you be interested in meeting with me, and the others who wrote, for dinner one night.  I’ll treat. 

Look forward to hearing from you.”

Guess what?  Not one person responded.  Which leads me to wonder just how concerned are these parents about education, or did someone just give them a piece of paper with my email address on it and were told that I was trying to take away their child’s scholarship?

 

 

 

 

Mobile Joins The Parade Calling For Accountability Act Repeal

The Mobile County school system is the largest in Alabama with an enrollment of 53,971 last year.  And at their Nov. 13 school board meeting they joined Baldwin and Montgomery county systems in passing a resolution asking their legislative delegation to work to repeal the Alabama Accountability Act.

These means that of the four largest systems in the state, three of them have called for repeal.  Baldwin has 35,907 students, Montgomery has 29,124 and Jefferson rounds out the top four with 35,907.

Since this law was passed in 2013, a total of $146,617,919 has been diverted from the state’s Education Trust Fund to provide scholarships to students attending private schools.  There were 726,924 students in public schools  in 2017-18.  Do the math and you see this amounts to $201.69 for each public school student.

This comes to $10.8 million for Mobile, $6.2 million for Baldwin and $5.8 million for Montgomery.  With all systems scratching for funding at present, more and more educators and school boards are realizing that the Accountability Act is a bad investment for public schools.

Here are portions of the Mobile resolution:

“WHEREAS, after five years of implementation, based on data, the act has not achieved its original purpose of increasing student achievement; instead, the state as a whole continues to suffer academically;

WHEREAS, instead of a positive financial impact, the act has holistically caused negative financial impacts on school districts;

WHEREAS, an evaluation by the Alabama Department of Revenue concluded that students leaving public schools for private schools under AAA “were not associated with significant improvement on standardized test scores” and that those students “were more likely to remain in a non-proficient category than to improve.”

WHEREAS, AAA labels schools, faculty, staff and students as failing when expediential growth is being shown in these schools each year;

WHEREAS, Mobile County Public Schools is the largest school district in the state, and adequate funding is needed in order to ensure both equity and equality among the 88 schools throughout the district;

WHEREAS, the Mobile County Board of School Commissioners requests a copy of this resolution to be provided to each member of the Mobile County Legislative Delegation requesting their support of the repeal of the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013.”

It is expected that more systems will soon take the same action as Mobile, Baldwin and Montgomery.

 

Del Marsh Opens Mouth, Inserts Foot

We told you that the Montgomery school board passed a resolution last week calling on local legislators to repeal the Alabama Accountability Act.  This came after Baldwin County did the same the week before that.

Now the Montgomery Advertiser has written an article about what the local board did.  You can read it here.  Reporter Krista Johnson did a good job of looking at this issue from several angles.  She even contacted Del Marsh, the pro tem of the senate, and the sponsor of the AAA back in 2013.

Predictably, he blew off the resolution.  In fact, Marsh said that he “could care less about that board.”  Meaning of course the Montgomery board.  Why am I not surprised?

But as a member of the Montgomery board, I could care less about what the good senator thinks of us.  As he well knows, all politics is local which is why we directed that our resolution be given to the two Senators and five House members that represent Montgomery.  I don’t think they will ignore what their local school board says.

Speaking of Senator Marsh, since the general election is Nov 6, seems he would be best served at this point in time to concentrate on his own effort to be elected for his sixth term in the Senate.  After all, even though he spent $444,574 through last June to win his primary, he only defeated his Republican opponent by 852 votes.  And this was an opponent who only spent $7,474.

Marsh also has an opponent on Nov. 6.  Which is why he has spent another $367,078 since the first of July.  His opponent is Democrat Jim Williams, who like Marsh’s primary challenger, Wayne Willis, will be badly outspent.  (Through Oct 26, Williams had spent $36,884)  However, it is interesting to note that while Williams has gotten contributions from more than 160 individuals, Marsh only shows 13 individual contributors this entire year.  Like most longtime entrenched politicians, he depends on political action committees and major contributions like those from the Poarch Band of Creek Indians who have given him $30,000 this year.

Marsh also told the Advertiser that he would like to raise the $30 million cap on donations to scholarship granting organizations.  But before he tries this, he might think back to the 2017 regular session when he wanted to amend AAA and failed miserably on the final day.  As a result, just to show how much he really cares about Alabama students in public schools, he single-handedly killed a supplemental appropriation of $41 million after he lost his amendment try.

Del Marsh is a shrewd politician, never doubt that.  But before he says too much about what the Montgomery school board does, he would be wise to remember that of the 22 votes the accountability act got in 2013, 13 of them will not be in the Senate come 2019.