Look Who Wants To Get Their Hands On Accountability Act Scholarships

A few days ago a group calling themselves USA Academy plan to start a football  program in Elmore County and attach a “school” to it.  As one friend told me, “Normally we have schools looking for football teams, but this is a football team looking for a school.”

Even in football-crazed Alabama, this development is more than “over-the-top.”

You can read all about this venture in this piece by Josh Bean, with AL.com.

The football program will be run by Rush Propst, a very successful high school coach in Alabama and Georgia, and someone who has been more than a little controversial throughout his career.

Supposedly the primary purpose will be to produce high school players who can readily find college teams to play for.

Here is the part of Bean’s article that most caught my attention:

“Will in-state students be eligible to receive Accountability scholarships?

The Alabama Accountability Act, originally passed in 2013 by the state Legislature, allows taxpayers to donate to scholarship granting organizations, known as SGOs. The SGOs distribute scholarships to low-income students in kindergarten through 12th grade to use in participating schools.

DeVaughn said in-state USA Academy students will be able to access Accountability scholarships. In addition, he said he’s already spoken to two scholarship granting organizations and received positive feedback and confirmed the school also plans to create its own scholarship granting organization.

Scholarship students using tax credit scholarships must take standardized tests in English language arts and math, and they must take the ACT college entrance exam before graduating.”

But wait?

Isn’t this program that has diverted $155 million from the Education Trust Fund all about helping “poor kids stuck in failing schools by their zip code?”  After all, this is what the public has been told over and over and over again since the Accountability Act was passed in 2013.

And certainly no one would ever dare deceive the good taxpayers of Alabama.

 

 

Numbers Show That When It Comes To Helping Kids In Failing Schools, Accountability Act Is A Sham

As soon as the 2013 accountability act met the light of day (remember it was crafted behind closed doors with no input from educators), the public was told that its only purpose was to help students stuck in “failing schools”.

In fact, “failing schools” are mentioned on line 16 of the first page of the original act and are referenced numerous times in the following 26 pages.  And no doubt many of the lawmakers who voted for this bill actually thought this was the case.  After all, many later admitted that they did not read the bill before voting to pass it and believed what leadership told them..

But time has proven that this contention is just a sham.

The terminology of “failing schools” was inserted in the bill so that parents of students in one of these schools could apply to the state for an income tax credit to offset the expense of moving a child to a non-failing school.  (The bill arbitrarily says that the bottom six percent of all schools will be deemed as “failing.”  Why six percent?  Apparently someone’s Ouija board suggested it.)

So every year the state department of education releases a list of schools (he most recent has 76 schools on it) they determine are “failing.”  (However, two of the current schools on the list received a B on the A-F school report card grading system.)

There are about 40,000 students in these schools.  These are the students we were told that the scholarships to private schools created by the accountability act would benefit the most.

But that has never been the case.  For instance, in the fall of 2018, the seven scholarship granting organizations handing out scholarships only had 3,685 students as recipients.  Of these, only 1,235 were identified  as  “zoned” to attend a failing school.  That was 33.5 percent of all scholarships.  Even this number is suspect because a student may be “zoned” for a “failing school” without ever having set foot in one.

And what about those parental tax credits?  In 2018, just 120 parents claimed a credit on their state income tax.

That’s 120 out of a potential of about 40,000.  The most that have ever been claimed was180 in 2016.

Yet, we are still supposed to believe that this law’s primary purpose is “to help poor kids stuck in struggling schools by their zip code.”

Governor Ivey has said that she does not like the label of “failing schools.”  Nor does anyone else, especially educators.

There is a simple solution.  In the next legislative session this law should be amended and all references to “failing schools” eliminated.  As the numbers show, only a handful of parents are using the tax credit while 40,000 students are being labeled as “failing.”

It is time to end this charade.

Governor Ivey Questions “Failing School” Language

Governor Ivey’s comment at the state school board work session last week about “failing schools” opened the door for what should have long been done–a thorough look at the Alabama Accountability Act and it’s shortcomings.

FAILING SCHOOLS is largely a gimmick inserted in the act to throw a bone to parents who move their kids from failing to non-failing schools.  In fact, it is mentioned in the first paragraph of the original bill:

“to provide an income tax credit to any parent who transfers a student enrolled in or assigned to attend a failing public K-12 school to a nonfailing public school or nonpublic school of the parent’s choice”

However, according to a reliable source, only about 100-125 parents apply for such a tax deduction when filing their state income tax.

(This act is administered by the Revenue Department, not the Department of Education, and each year they work with the Department of Education to try and verify if the children of those asking for this deduction were, in fact, attending a failing school.  It is not uncommon to find a few cases where there is no record of children having been enrolled in any Alabama school.)

The law also says that when a child transfers, 20 percent of the money that normally would leave the school with them must remain with the failing school.  This amounts to only about $900 per student.

It certainly appears that amending the law and eliminating any reference to “failing schools” would have virtually no impact on how the program is administered–and it would eliminate the present confusion caused by having one list of “failing schools” and another list of schools graded by a letter grade of A-F.

Our present system makes no sense.

We are told there are now 75 “failing schools.”  Yet, the latest A-F ranking shows there are only 24 F schools in the state (out of 1,315).  Five of these F schools are not on the failing  list.  But 43 D schools are on it, along with 11 Cs and two rated as a B.  This is downright bizarre and nonsense of the highest order.

How do you explain to a principal and faculty who celebrate a B that they are on the failing list?  You don’t.

The failing school portion of the accountability act should be scrapped as it serves no useful purpose.

 

Accountability Act And High School Football

There are presently seven scholarship granting organizations (SGOs) giving out scholarships to private schools through the Alabama Accountability Act.  They make quarterly reports and the one that covers July, August, September of 2019 has just been released.  Since this report covers the start of a new school year, it is especially insightful.

Particularly since we are now having high school football playoffs.

While it is seldom discussed publicly, especially by those who support this legislation, it is no secret that some private schools make good use of  AAA scholarships to boost their athletic programs.

Heading into the second week of football playoffs, there are 16 private schools still in competition in all seven football classifications.  The just-released SGO reports show nine of these have scholarships.  A grand total of 377 to be exact.

The biggest benefactor is McGill-Toolen in Mobile with 108.  Next is Faith Academy, also in Mobile with 77.  Montgomery Catholic Prep has 63, St. John Paul Catholic of Huntsville has 58 and Mobile Christian has 38.

Of the nine schools with scholarships, their overall record this season is 84 wins and 14 losses.  In fact, four of them are undefeated as of this date.

As we all recall, when this legislation was passed in 2013 we were told its primary purpose was to help students stuck in struggling schools by their zip codes.  No one said a word about touchdowns.

Editor’s note: The new quarterly reports show a total of 5,006 scholarships were awarded this school year, a sizeable jump from 3,685 in the same quarter last year.  Of these, only 33.5 percent went to students “zoned” for failing schools.  A total of $11.1 million was spent on these scholarships.

This program has now diverted more than $155 million from the Education Trust Fund since 2013.  And is the primary reason 25 local school boards have passed resolutions calling for repeal of this legislation.

Two More Systems Call For Accountability Act Repeal

Lost in all the recent commotion about the Washington County charter fiasco, the legislative effort to go from an elected state school board and much more, is the news that the Tarrant City and Conecuh County school systems have now joined with 22 other systems passing resolutions to repeal the Alabama Accountability Act.

This means that systems with more than 207,000 of the 722,000 students in public schools statewide have joined this push.

As we recall, when this bill was passed in 2013 its supporters said it was all about “helping poor  kids stuck in failing schools by their zip code.”  Of course, that was so much baloney then, just as it is now.  Proof is in the fact that a majority of students in both Tarrant City and Conecuh County receive free-reduced lunches.  The very students AAA is supposed to help the most.

Previously, Baldwin, Montgomery, Mobile, Jefferson, Bibb, Geneva, Henry, Houston, Marion, Randolph, Tallapoosa, Butler, Covington, Morgan, Washington and Blount county systems passed resolutions.  City systems that have are Andalusia, Opp, Roanoke, Leeds, Russellville and Winfield.

New SGO Joins The Alabama Accountability Act

A brand new scholarship granting organization (SGO) in now in operation to take in contributions and direct them to private school scholarships.  Read about it here.  However, this one is unique as only students attending Catholic schools in central and north Alabama can get scholarships.

While it is officially known as C2 Scholarships, it could just as easily be named the “Get More Bang For Your Buck” SGO.

Here’s why.  Under the law creating the Alabama Accountability Act, contributors to a SGO get a tax CREDIT from the state of Alabama on their state income tax.  This means if they contribute $1,000, the state allows them to deduct $1,000 from their Alabama income tax bill.

However, if the same person gives $1,000 to a Catholic school for a scholarship, they only can claim a tax DEDUCTION on their state income tax.  Suppose the donor is in the 30 percent income bracket, then they only get a deduction of 30 percent times $1,000 ($300) when they file.

According to my sources at the state revenue department, SGOs are the only charitable organizations that are treated this way.  Everyone else, like Boy Scouts, United Way and your church don’t qualify.

This is just one more flaw in this law that has diverted $145 million from Alabama public schools.

From the beginning, Catholic schools have gobbled up SGO scholarships.  A quick check of scholarships awarded last fall from five SGOs shows that three of them gave out a total of 1,127 scholarships to Catholic schools.  That is 30 percent of the total of 3,659 awarded in the quarter ending Sept. 30, 2018.  The largest recipient was McGill-Toolen in Mobile with 116.  According to info on the school’s website, that is about 10 percent of their student body on AAA scholarships.

Though Sacred Heart Catholic in Anniston only had 47 scholarships last fall, that is about 17 percent of their student body.  And it is common knowledge around Anniston some scholarships are used to recruit basketball players.  Sacred Heart got their first AAA scholarships in 2015.  That same year they won the boy’s state basketball title in division 1 A.  They did the same in 2016, 2017 and 2018.  This year they competed in division 2 A and finished as state runner up.

Since a donation to a SGO never gets to the state, technically it is not state money funding scholarships.  This is how we skirt the prohibition about church and state. However, since the state is giving a dollar for dollar tax break to donors on their income tax and all income tax goes directly to the Education Trust Fund, public schools are still the loser in all of this.