Survey Says Time For Accountability Act To Go

More that 600 people have responded so far to our recent survey about the Alabama Accountability Act.  They are loud and clear as to how they view AAA.  Seventy-six percent say it should be repealed.  Another 17 percent say it should be modified and only one percent say it should be left as is.

This is not surprising since 78 percent of respondents are either currently working in public education, or are retired educators.  They also have a vested interested as 58 percent either have children or grand children now in a public school.. More than 51 percent are in the age range of 46 to 65.  Sixty-eight percent of all respondents are female.

And 46 percent identify themselves as Republicans, 32 percent are Independents and 23 percent are Democrats.

Editor’s note: SurveyMonkey was the instrument used to get responses.  This methodology is used by more then 4,000 companies worldwide In market research.  Unlike traditional political polling, SurveyMonkey does not control responses according to demographics.  However, the number of responses is so large that info is very valid in measuring attitudes and trend lines.

We probed a number of education issues and AAA issues.

For instance, while those supporting the accountability act imply that public schools should not miss the $100 million now diverted from the Education Trust Fund by this legislation, 95.5 percent of survey takers do not believe Alabama schools are adequately funded.  Only four percent say they know someone who has contributed to a Scholarship Granting Organization (SGO) and seven percent say they know a student who has received a scholarship with this program.

This law creates a double standard for charitable contributions.  While the state allows an income tax DEDUCTION for traditional contributions based on the contributor’s income tax bracket; donors to an SGO get a dollar for dollar TAX CREDIT on their taxes.  Say you are in the 35 percent tax bracket and give $1,000 to the Boy Scouts, you get a $350 (35% X $1,000) tax deduction.  However, if you give $1,000 to a SGO, the state allows you to take this amount off your tax liability owed the state.  In other words, you are reimbursed $1,000.

Some 56 percent of those who answered the survey say both regular charitable contributions and SGO contributions should be treated equally.

There is concern these scholarships are sometimes used to recruit athletes to private schools.  Some 77 percent think a school getting AAA scholarships should not be allowed to compete in athletics with public schools.  They also have strong feelings about scholarships being given to non-accredited private schools as is presently allowed.  Eighty-three percent oppose this.

The survey also shows intense feelings about the State Board of Education and their unwillingness to take a stand on AAA.  Some 88 percent say the board should take a public position on AAA and 90 percent say the board should be actively involved in making legislative changes in the law.

While this law requires that the state identify the bottom six percent of all public schools and label them as “failing,” 78 percent say the same bottom six percent standard should be applied to private schools.  In other words, apply the same logic to both public and private schools.

Once identified as a “failing” school, AAA does not stipulate that any resources or help be given to these schools to help them improve.  Eighty-three percent of responses say this is wrong.

So far, school boards in Baldwin, Mobile, Montgomery, Randolph and Tallapoosa counties have passed resolutions calling for the repeal of AAA.  Some 87 percent agree with school boards taking such action.

We also wanted to know how respondents feel about the overall state of public education in Alabama.  Unfortunately, 45 percent believe it will be worse in the future than it now is.

Might it be that after six years of the accountability act and little to show for it, plus the fact that the state school board is apparently content to give up $100 million in funding without saying a word, there is ample reason for general pessimism?

I don’t know that answer.  But I do know that the good folks who took this survey have spoken loudly that they do not believe the accountably act works and they are calling for action.


Writers Of Accountability Act Never Heard Of The Good Samaritan

Most of us heard the parable of the Good Samaritan at an early age.  Probably in a Sunday School Class.  And in Alabama, it was probably a Baptist Sunday School.

As you remember, Jesus told the story of a Jewish traveler who was beaten and left by the side of the road.  A priest saw him, but did not help.  Then a Levite came along and like the priest, did not lend a hand.  And even though Samaritans and Jews did not like each other, it was a Samaritan who came to the aid of the traveler.

The point being, of course, that we are to help those most in need.

This is where those who drafted the Alabama Accountability Act forgot what they learned in Sunday School.  Because while the law makes a big deal out of identifying the bottom six percent of all public schools as “failing,” they made no mention of trying to help these struggling schools in any form or fashion.

We have now published six lists of so-called “failing” schools.  Most years there are about 75 schools identified.  (We will soon get the latest list.)

Nine schools have been on this list every single time.  R. B. Hudson Middle in Selma; Central High in Tuscaloosa; Camden School of Arts & Technology in Wilcox County; Bullock County High in Union Springs; Robert Brown Middle in Greene County; Bellingrath Middle and Capitol Heights Middle in Montgomery County and Booker T. Washington Middle and C. L. Scarborough Middle in Mobile County.

For SIX years these schools have been waiting for a Good Samaritan.  But all they have seen are priests and Levites.

These schools have 3,989 students; 72.6 percent of whom are on free-reduced lunches and 90.3 percent are black.  They are the face of struggling schools across Alabama.  The very ones legislators claimed they wanted to help when they concocted AAA.

But the fact that this legislation turned its back on our most challenged students and their schools, proves once again that this law was never truly INTENDED to help education, but was all about tax breaks instead.

I have watched in amazement for six years as a state that strongly professes to being guided by Biblical teachings, turns a blind eye to its own moral shortcomings.

It can only be called shameful..

Former Baldwin Board Member Has His Say

David Tarwater served for six years on the Baldwin County board of education.  He did not seek re-election this year.  In October, he introduced a resolution, which the board passed, calling for the repeal of the Alabama Accountability Act.  (Baldwin County was the first board to do this.  Since then, Mobile, Montgomery, Tallapoosa and Randolph counties have done the same thing.)

Rachel Bryars with the Alabama Policy Institute took Tarwater to task for opposing the accountability act.  Tarwater took exception to this attack and responded here.

Let’s look at some of his response:

“Dear Ms. Bryars,

I read your criticism of the Baldwin County school board’s resolution calling for a repeal of the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA). Having been a member of this board at that time, I felt the need to respond.

While running my own business, I put in countless hours in my board position, all to benefit the children of our county. This could be said about any other member of the board as well. I point this out to strongly disagree with your suggestion that our resolution was offered for any other purpose than to benefit students, and the idea that we are choosing “systems over students” is categorically false.

I also offer a response on a few of your other points.

First, to address your data on school funding for Mobile, Montgomery, and Baldwin Counties, there are other factors when looking at these statistics. First, let me point out that school systems received less state monies in 2018 on a per pupil basis than they did in 2007.  When we consider inflation, state funding has been cut by 20 percent. Less than ten years ago Baldwin County Schools had to release 1,100 employees because of drastic reductions in state funding. Alabama continues to be way behind in the country in education funding. Our funding per pupil is over $2,000 less than the national average and our K-12 achievement Index ranks 45th in the nation.

To suggest that education funding is where it needs to be for Alabama, and that we should be happy with recent tiny increases, is an insult to our great teachers and faculty. Anything that decreases our already deficient funding of education, which the AAA does, is unacceptable for the students and people of Alabama.

The AAA has meant $5 million less in funding for Baldwin County alone since its adoption.

Five million dollars could mean more teachers, support staff, technology, and extracurricular programs for our students, the type of things that will allow our schools to be truly world-class places.

My other concern with the AAA is the lack of accountability. Public Schools must report academic success but there are no such requirements for vouchered students.

In response to your biblical example and idea that those opposed to the law do not want students to have the “best learning environment possible”, I feel as if we cannot honestly say that we are caring for ALL of our children if, instead of investing heavily in the schools and communities that have the greatest need, we are choosing to brand them as failing and leaving the vast majority of their students at a disadvantage.

The children of my community deserve better than the Alabama Accountability Act, and that is why I will continue to call for its repeal.

Our children deserve the best, and I hope you will join me in reaching out to your local Board of Education and state legislators and letting them know it is time to repeal this law.”

I know David Tarwater.  He is a good guy (even though he pulls for the wrong football team) and I believe he has a much better understanding of public education than anyone at the Alabama Policy Institute.

Randolph School Board Calls For Accountability Act Repeal

The Randolph County board of education has become the firth board in the state to pass a resolution asking for the repeal of the Alabama Accountability Act.  They join Baldwin, Mobile, Montgomery and Tallapoosa counties in doing so.

For those who might not know, Randolph County adjoins the Georgia state line in east Alabama.  About halfway between Auburn and Anniston with U.S. 431 splitting it from south to north.. And though it is only about 75 miles as the crow flies from the county seat of Wedowee to downtown Atlanta, Randolph is about as rural as you can get.

Just 23,000 people scattered between Bacon Level, Wildwood, Wadley and Graham.  Only 2,300 students in a system of eight schools.  Free-reduced lunch rate is 67 percent.

John Jacobs is the superintendent of the county school system.  Like all rural educators, he understands the financial challenges faced by such systems.  He knows the several hundred thousand dollars diverted from his system by the AAA could be well spent locally.

“When you are struggling to maintain a one month operating reserve as the state requires,” says Jacobs, “it’s hard to understand how taking money from your students to pay tuition for someone to go to private school benefits your own system.”

The accountability act was passed in 2013 and through 2017 has diverted more than $100 million from the Education Trust Fund.  Like Randolph County, more and more local systems are calling this diversion into question.



More Fake News From Alabama Policy Institute

The Montgomery County board of education passed a resolution in October calling for the repeal of the Alabama Accountability Act.

I was on the board that did this, I wrote much of the resolution and I voted for it.

So, I was more than a little surprised when I read a recent article by Rachel Bryars of the Alabama Policy Institute telling me why I did what I did and how I was intent on hurting needy children.

The article was titled: School boards are choosing systems over students by calling for scholarship repeal.

This title is totally inaccurate, as is most of her article.

To be correct, it should have said something like: Schools boards are looking out for students in their system instead of those in private schools.

Every school board member takes an oath that they will do all they can to help their system and its students.  And as required by the School Board Governance Improvement Act of 2012 board members must sign a certificate of affirmation.  Number one on this lists states: That each decision, action and vote I take or make as a member of the school board shall be based solely on the needs and interests of students or the system.

Obviously Ms. Bryars has not bothered to do her homework. Or she would know that the boards of public school systems should be concerned about public schools only.

API is a huge supporter of the accountability act.  The one that diverts money from the state Education Trust Fund to give scholarships so students can attend private schools.

Montgomery is one of four systems to pass such a resolution.  The others are Mobile, Baldwin and Tallapoosa counties.

Ms. Bryars would have you believe that these four systems have all the funding they need and are being cold-hearted by calling for money to stop being diverted.

That is laughable.

So immediately after reading her article I sent Ms. Bryars an email inviting her to come visit some public schools in Montgomery and see for herself.  Told her I would be glad to arrange her visit.

Got no response.

I would take her to visit some science teachers who can’t remember the last time they got new textbooks, would take her to the present home of our magnet performing arts high school that is crammed into an abandoned elementary school because their school burned down a few months ago.

Would take her to another magnet school that is housed in a building constructed in 1910 and would take her to see Curtis Black, the principal at Goodwyn middle school who got 300 new students back in August and has them crammed into every nook and cranny he can find.

Would also suggest she take a look at the national website, DonorsChoose, where teachers around the country show projects they need funding for.  There are presently 38 projects listed by Montgomery teachers.  Guess they don’t know their system has more money than it can use.

As to the contention that this system is not looking out for children, figures from the state department of education show there are now 16,202 students in this system on free or reduced lunches.

Anyone who knows anything about education know these are our most at-risk students.

Ms. Bryars must think we have zero obligation to these children.  That we should say it is OK to take money that might be used to boost their education and give it to private schools instead?

And how did API determine MPS is flush with cash?  Because we have had an increase in funding since 2008.  However, they fail to point out that shortly after 2008 the state Education Trust Fund dropped tremendously and funding today is less than it was ten years ago.

Schools in Alabama need all the help they can get.  We certainly don’t need the kind of falsehoods and half-truths the Alabama Policy Institute insists on peddling.



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.