The latest edition of the Alabama Political Reporter has two very interesting articles about school “choice.”  One is by columnist Josh Moon and the other by Senator Del Marsh.  They take quite different approaches to the issue and you can see both articles at the links just provided.

Let’s take a look at some of what each of them have to say.

First, Senator Marsh………..

“I am proud to have introduced sweeping legislation that allows the creation of public charter schools and the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA), which makes it easier for parents to send their children to different schools when they have no option.

I have welcomed any and all interested parties to help craft legislation so that it meets the needs of everyone involved. Many of the organizations entrusted to represent the values of our professional educators have little interest in assisting with reforms of any kind and work overtime to kill any change no matter how positive it may be to parents or students. Especially if those changes involve giving parents a choice.

Survey after survey shows a majority of Americans support school choice. Those with means exhibit school choice by moving to areas where their public schools excel or pay for a private school, as I am sure the directors and bureaucrats of those opposed already do. However, for far too many, access to a quality education is solely determined by their ZIP code.

Even if only one child is able to achieve their potential and realize their dreams because they were able to improve their situation, it will be well worth the vicious political attacks launched by the defenders of the status quo.”

Now Josh Moon……………..

““School choice” makes no sense.

At least, it doesn’t the way the conservatives currently push it, and it especially makes no sense the way Alabama lawmakers push it.

But in Alabama, with our Alabama Accountability Act (AAA), school choice is this: a tax break to leave a school that’s underperforming on standardized tests and join a better performing public school or a wholly untested, possibly even unaccredited, private school.

I have asked lawmaker after lawmaker one simple question about this AAA program, and I have yet to receive a straight answer.

The question: If the “failing school” is indeed so terrible that we’re willing to reroute tax money from it to a private institution that’s not even accredited, then what makes it OK for some students to attend that failing school?

Because we’re not shutting down the bad schools. We’re not devoting a dime’s more resources to them. In fact, we’re providing them less money.

Which means, when the students who can afford to change schools do move out, what’s left behind are the most poverty-stricken students in the worst funded public schools in the country.

Further, let’s say that by some miracle there’s a child attending a poor performing school in Birmingham, and that child has the means to travel daily to Mountain Brook – the best, most well-funded school system in the State – and get the quality education that sees an overwhelming majority of Mountain Brook’s kids go on to college, could that child get into Mountain Brook’s schools?

No.

Because another telling portion of the AAA is this: non-failing schools are not required to admit the students from a failing school.

But, I guess, after years of this Alabama song and dance, maybe we all should know better by now.

We should know that “opportunity” doesn’t mean opportunity for all families. And that “choice” doesn’t mean choice for all families.

And most of all we should know that it was never our lawmakers’ intent to provide a quality education for all students.”

I believe I can say with no reservation that I have written more about AAA, studied it more and talked to more educators about its impact than anyone in Alabama.  (Click on Accountability Act in the menu on the right and you will see more than 50 articles.)  And while I admire Senator Marsh’s persistence, I simply can not find the data to back his claims.  We have now diverted more than $86 million from the Education Trust Fund to give vouchers to students to go to private schools.  But less than 4,000 do.  And yet, we seem to for the most part, ignore the fact that we have 730,000 students in public schools.

I wish Senator Marsh would go to Lowndes County one day and talk to superintendent Daniel Boyd, and ask him how many of the 400 kids in their “failing schools” have been helped.  Last time I asked Daniel he did not know of any.

And I am disappointed that the good senator once again falls back on the well-worn mantra of “status quo.”  Does he honestly believe that our schools are standing still, that every teacher is doing what she/he did 10-20 years ago?  The only “status quo” I see is that every year certain legislators once again do all they can to weaken our public school system.

Though Senator Marsh doesn’t appear to know about it, school choice in the form of vouchers and charter schools have been around for more than 20 years.  Charters started in Minnesota, vouchers in Milwaukee.  And neither have been a rousing success.

Based on my travels, my visits to schools, my talks with teachers, principals and superintendents I agree more with Josh than Del.