Jefferson County school superintendent Craig Pouncey is one of the more well-known educators in Alabama. Considering that he has more than 30 years in the profession as teacher, superintendent of Crenshaw County schools, chief of staff for state superintendent Tommy Bice and superintendent of one of the largest, most diverse systems in the state, this is no surprise.
He also has the courage and conviction to speak his mind about education when he feels the situation warrants it. The Jefferson County school board became the most recent to pass a resolution calling for the repeal of the Alabama Accountability Act on Jan. 31.
As expected the local media grabbed Pouncey at the end of the meeting. You can see his interview here. Please watch it.
He pulled no punches, referring to AAA as a “tax scheme” meant to benefit a small number of people in the state, instead of the vast number of public school students. He said the legislation was “deceptively created” when a much different bill came out of committee than went into it. And he said the bill “does not do what it was supposed to do.”
Having studied this bill and its ramifications since February 2013, Pouncey is on target with each of his claims.
Van Phillips, the long time principal at Center Point high school in Jefferson County is also interviewed. His concerns mirror those of Pouncey. Even though the state’s A-F school report does not give Center Point an F, they are still on the AAA;s :”failing” school list. All the accountability act is doing is pointing its finger at communities of color and low income says Phillips. “When we need more resources, this bill is taking them away from my school,” he concludes.
I will quickly admit that one of my REAL frustrations is the failure of too many educators to take a stand. Even when they know they are right. If I knew why this is the case, I would do something about it for certain.
No one will ever accuse Craig Pouncey of not standing up. We need more like him.
No doubt Senator Del Marsh is a very busy guy. Being majority leader of the Alabama senate is not an easy task. You have about a dozen balls in the air at all times.
Of course, Marsh is the champion of the Alabama Accountability Act, the legislation that has diverted more than $100 million from public schools in order to give scholarships to students going to private schools. This legislation also directs the state to declare a “failing” school list each year. (Click here if you want to see how this is working.)
Still, it is disconcerting when Marsh makes a statement about his own public schools in Anniston which is incorrect. I am referring to the following comment Marsh made in a recent interview.
“I’ve had a failing school in Anniston for years and we can’t get the board to make changes to come out of a failing status,” he advised.
Actually Anniston has had both Anniston High and Anniston Middle schools on the failing list in the past. BUT not this year. And one wonders why the good senator is not CELEBRATING this fact, rather than misstating it.
One thing is for certain, these schools did not avoid the list this time around because of help they got from the accountability act. One of the real short comings of AAA is that while it labels schools as “failing,” it does not offer them a hand up.
One also has to wonder if Marsh is so busy being majority leader that perhaps he is not paying enough attention to the home folks. This may well be why he struggled in the Republican primary last June to defeat a vastly outspent challenger by less than 1,000 votes. Marsh spent $458,679 while Wayne Willis spent $12,8792. That is a $35.57 to $1 advantage.
Marsh has served 20 years in the state senate. At some point it is only natural that you are not as visible in your district as you once were. That instead of meeting with the volunteer fire departments you are in Montgomery instead.
It appears that pressure against the accountability act is mounting as evidenced by the fact that the four largest schools systems in the state (Mobile, Baldwin, Jefferson and Montgomery) have all passed resolutions calling for a repeal of AAA.
Still Marsh is dug in regarding his support of AAA. As he said in this article:
“The Accountability Act – as far as I’m concerned, I will fight to the end to protect the Accountability Act. In fact, I’ll do all I can to increase it to make sure it maintains its status in the state to provide that choice for those kids and those parents,” Marsh concluded.”
It is no secret that Marsh, along with several others, is looking at running for the U.S. Senate seat in 2020 now held by Doug Jones. There are presently only 3,668 students on AAA scholarships. However, the seven school systems that have passed repeal resolutions represent 155,000 public school students.
Plus, 76 percent of respondents to our recent survey about AAA said it should be repelled, while 17 percent said it should be modified.
It might be smart for Marsh to consider these numbers at the same time he is trying to figure out what is going on with Anniston’s schools.
In what is the strongest rebuke yet of the Alabama Accountability Act, the Jefferson County school board, the second largest system in the state, has passed a resolution calling on the legislature to repeal AAA. They are the seventh board to take this step.
This is significant because it means all four of the largest systems (Mobile, Jefferson, Baldwin, Montgomery) have spoken out about the ineffectiveness of AAA. These systems, plus the three others who have done the same thing (Tallapoosa, Russellville city, Randolph) represent more than 155,000 students.
By comparison, at the end of September, there were only 3,668 students on accountability act scholarships attending private schools. Public school boards are taking this step to highlight the fact that AAA has now diverted more than $100 million from the Education Trust Fund since created in 2013.
The move by Jefferson County is also meaningful because the county has the largest legislative delegation in Alabama. In all, 16 house members and six senators represent portions of the county. And when you look at the same measure for all seven systems, there are 42 house members and 17 senators representing school systems calling for repeal.
The Jefferson County resolution, which was read by superintendent Craig Pouncey at the Jan. 31, 2019 board meeting, minces no words as to why the Jefferson County board believes the accountability act is bad. For example:
WHEREAS, it was introduced into the legislative process as a “Teacher Flexibility Act” and in the darkness of a conference committee it evolved as a tax credit scheme that has served to benefit a select few.
WHEREAS, the legislation was touted as a vehicle to help students escape failing schools, the facts show something far less. There have been zero dollars allocated to improve struggling schools, and the overwhelming number of scholarship recipients receiving benefits from this act never even attended a failing public school.
WHEREAS, students who are granted these quasi scholarships to private schools are actually receiving on a per pupil basis, a larger share of state dollars than is being allocated to the 722,000 public schools students throughout the state.
WHEREAS, public schools are subjected to multiple accountability measures, private schools neither have to be accredited nor held to the same standards.
WHEREAS, the Alabama Accountability Act is the legislatively approved measure that has singly diverted $140,000,000 from Alabama public schools and specifically $19,762,068 from the twelve school districts in Jefferson County.
NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Jefferson County Board of Education calls on the Jefferson County Legislative delegation to take the lead in abolishing this act that was deceptively created as one thing, but in reality has turned into a profitable advantage for a chosen few; all the while, nothing has been added to support struggling schools and this act itself has unfairly mislabeled schools of poverty and their communities as well.
As us country boys say, They have put the hay down where the goats can get it.
And from all indications, more hay is on the way.
Eric Mackey, state school superintendent recently visited schools in the Demopolis city school system and according to this article, was very impressed. That is definitely understandable because this little system of about 2,200 students, has long been an oasis right in the middle of the Black Belt.
The real story here is how a small, progressive community years ago refused to abandon it’s public schools when integration became a reality. The school system is 49.5 percent black and 45.2 percent white (the rest are Hispanic). By comparison, the community is 50.1 percent black and 47.3 percent white.
I have searched and can’t find any other community in Alabama where school population mirrors community population so closely.
But what caught my attention in this article were Mackey’s comments about the infamous Alabama Accountability Act.
“Mackey expressed reservations about the Alabama Accountability Act. The legislation, passed in 2013, was designed to provide scholarships for students in failing schools to attend private schools.
The act “has done some good things for some kids,” he said, but there is a lack of accountability. Public schools are an open book; private schools less so.
What gives him heartburn is declaring that the lowest six percent of schools in the state based on narrow criteria are “failing.” He will not use that term.”
After watching at least $100 million be diverted from the Education Trust Fund, it’s high time some folks at the state level are joining more and more local school boards and speaking out about AAA.
The 2013 Alabama Accountability Act decreed that we would come up with a list of “failing” schools each year. The legislature in its infinite wisdom said the list would be the bottom six percent of all public schools.
(Supposedly this was so we could give scholarships to private schools for students in these schools. But as time has now shown, this claim is bogus. At last count, there were 3,668 total AAA scholarships. But only 1,226 (33.4 percent) of them went to students “zoned” for a failing school. And the reality is that the number who actually ever attended a failing school is much, much less.)
To see how absurd this all is, you have to bring in the scores from the last A-F school report card.
The new “failing” school list names 76 schools. Here is where nonsense really raises its head. Common sense says that a “failing” must get the lowest score on the letter grade list. Which is an F. But of the 76 schools, only 16 of them got an F. And 14 of them got a C, the other 46 were Ds.
It is ridiculous. Plain and simple.
A friend who teaches at Loachapoka high in Lee County summarized the nonsense well. He points out his school brought ACT scores up from an average of 13 to 15.4 (a 20 percent increase), got a C on the state report card and were put on the “failing” list. They were not on it last year.
Talk about taking the wind out of a school’s staff.
Another example of how worthless this list is. Of the 76 schools, 30 of them are high schools That’s 40 percent, though statewide high schools aren’t nearly 40 percent of all schools. Why so many high schools? It’s the way scores are computed. The ONLY measure used to determine placing is ACT scores of 11th graders. That’s it. One score from one grade counts for everything.
Of these 30, only three were an F on the report card while seven got a C. The rest (20) got a D.
Other that being on the same “failing” list, these schools have two other things in common. 1) Some 91.5 percent of their 17,663 students are black and 2) 66.2 percent get free-reduced lunches.
How many 11th graders in a school such as this are planning to go to college? How many of them are going to bust their butt to make good on the ACT?
But, but, but the proponents of the accountability act say, we want to help kids in these situations? There are seven schools on this year’s “failing” list that have been there EVERY YEAR the list has been published. And show me somewhere in the legislation that says schools that have been identified as struggling should get help to improve.
Guess what? You won’t because it is not there.
Friends, if you keep on doing what you been doing, you will keep on getting what you been getting. How much longer do we allow the accountability act to prove this over and over?
The pro-accountability act folks are gearing up to make sure that their annual raid on the Education Trust Fund continues. Unfortunately, as the Alabama Policy Institute keep showing us, this crowd seldom let’s facts get in the way of their propaganda.
Therefore, those on the side of the students, like educators, superintendents, school boards and others, need to be able to counter the mis-information.
So some folks in the pro-public education community have prepared a fact sheet, like the one pictured here for Jefferson County, for every county in Alabama.
If you would like one for your county, send me an email and request it. I will send to you.
Join us in getting the word to people all over the state. Download Fact Sheet to Share.