Reporter Krista Johnson with the Montgomery Advertiser does a fine job with this article in pointing out some of the realities of the Alabama Accountability Act.

Initially touted as being all about “helping poor kids stuck in failing schools by their zip codes” Johnson points out that time has proven this is not the case at all.

She says: “Of the 4,132 children who received a scholarship in 2016 through the accountability act (the most recent data available), 983 were zoned to attend one of the state’s 76 failing schools, a rate of about 24 percent.”

However, it should be pointed out that though 983 are “zoned” for failing schools, this does not mean they were attending a failing school.  A student may have attended a private school for years, but if they live in a neighborhood zoned for a failing school, they go in this category.  So we have no way of knowing how many kids who were actually going to a failing school got scholarships.  This is just another example of how little accountability is in the accountability act.

“…some education experts believe all schools using public funds should be required to abide by the same standards as public schools, but the 151 private schools qualified to serve students through the act aren’t.”

This flaw was highlighted several years ago when the University of Alabama tried to compare how well students going to private schools though AAA were performing.  While the conclusion was that there was very little difference in performance in public and private schools, the researchers pointed out that since private schools use far more tests than public schools, any comparison is difficult.

“The money that goes toward the act would otherwise go toward Alabama’s Education Trust Fund. At more than $6 billion annually, some argue the $30 million in state income tax diverted away from the public school system by the act is insignificant, while others argue the act takes more than that from public schools.

“You’re talking about one half of 1 percent of the entire education budget,” Sen. Marsh said about the price of the act, which he says is “helping families that are trapped.”

Senator Del Marsh sponsored the bill in 2013 and has steadfastly defended it.  His statement above is classic legislative double speak because he knows that the entire education budget includes monies for both K 12 and higher education–plus a LOT of other stuff.  For instance the most recent education budget has $2.8 million in it for the legislature, $58.4 million for the commerce department, $6.9 million for examiners of public accounts, and on and on.  So his one-half of one percent is not the real number..

“In Marsh’s opinion, the act is working well — with participating schools having a stricter performance expectation than public schools, he said.”

If there are facts to support this opinion, I have not seen them..  In fact, as this new study points out, private schools DO NOT outperform public schools.

“The act states that participating private schools need to be accredited or gain accreditation within three years of signing up to participate. Because of this, 57 schools were removed from the list in June due to failing to meet the accreditation deadline.”

As we pointed out in an earlier post, some of these schools had been allowed to participate in the program for five years without accreditation which undercuts the supposed concern some legislators express about school performance.

There is no doubt in my mind that AAA has been beneficial to some students.  But at what price to the 730,000 students starting back to school right now?  We have now diverted $147 million from the Education Trust Fund since 2013 for private school scholarships,  That is enough to give every elementary classroom in Alabama an additional $9,000.

The most damning fact about AAA is that though it requires the state department of education to identify the bottom six percent of all schools as failing–it does not lift a finger to help any of them improve.  In other words, we tell them how bad they are, then we turn our back on them.

Or put it another way, when it comes to children in Alabama, we do not believe in the Golden Rule.