Mary Sell, who does a great job of covering state politics for the newspapers in Decatur and Florence, did a story this week about the new info released by the Department of Revenue about activity of scholarship granting organizations in 2014.
As you would expect, the sponsor of the Alabama Accountability Act that set up the SGOs, Senator Del Marsh of Anniston, thinks the program is a rousing success.
If one defines “success” as diverting more money from public schools, propping up private schools that may not be accredited and offering tax breaks to large companies, which Marsh apparently does, it is a success.
But if one remembers that the original intent of this legislation, according to Marsh and other supporters, was to help “failing schools” and the students who attend them, it has been only slightly more successful that praying for snowfall on the 4th of July in Remlap. And it is insightful that I have yet to find a single educator working in public schools who agree with Senator Marsh. In fact, last year 30 superintendents signed a “friend of the court” brief to the state supreme court urging them to rule the act unconstitutional.
Originally, the bill capped all SGO contributions at $25 million a year. An amendment sponsored by Marsh and signed this week by Governor Bentley, increases this to $30 million. And Marsh is already talking about increasing it even more. As Senator Arthur Orr of Decatur recently asked, “Where is it going to end?”
Each dollar donated to an SGO allows the donor to get a dollar for dollar tax credit against their Alabama tax liability. Since these are taxes that would normally go to the Education Trust Fund, each dollar given as a private school scholarship is a dollar not available for public schools. SGOs raised $24.7 million in 2013 and $13.3 million in 2014 for a total of $38 million. However, the Marsh amendment allows donations in 2015 to be retroactive to 2014, meaning an additional $11.7 million can be added to the 2014 total. Couple this with the new limit of $30 million and by year’s end, the education trust fund may have lost $79.7 million in just three years.
This is what Senator Marsh calls success?
As Sell points out in her article, of the 5,776 scholarships awarded last year, only 49.8 percent went to students attending public schools and no more than 29.4 percent to kids who may have been in a failing school. Once again, real numbers do not support political rhetoric about legislation supposed to benefit struggling schools and their students.
One more example of what Senator Marsh wants the public to believe is success.
Other info the Sell article brings to light that does not hold up to scrutiny is the statement by a spokesperson for Bob Riley’s Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund that they have a waiting list of 4,000 students hoping for scholarships. But always In the past, the same folks have said they had 12,000 on a waiting list. What happened to 8,000? Since no one has seen such a list, this is like me bragging that 25 past Miss Americas want to take me to dinner and i have the list of them in my pocket.
The same spokesperson says their SGO would need $60 million to provide 4,000 scholarships. This is odd for a couple of reasons. One being that the Riley SGO’s average scholarship in 2014 was $4,683 which means $60 million would provide more than 12,500 cholarships–not 4,000. And the new Marsh amendment sets a limit of $10,000 for a scholarship, which is less than the $15,000 per scholarship the spokesperson says they need.
Once again, numbers appear out of thin air with no substantiation and Senator Marsh holds them up as the way we should do business.
As with beauty, “success” is evidently in the eyes of the beholder. And evidently success that is seen through the eyes of a professional politician is drastically different than success seen through the eyes of a professional educator.
If there was ever any doubt that our present legislative leadership is more intent on harming public schools than helping them, it should be gone by now.