One would expect that when something that is really good for education is happening, we would hear educators promoting it.
But think a minute. Who are the most vocal voices telling us how great the Alabama Accountability Act is? Politicians, employees of Bob Riley’s scholarship granting organization and private school folks who stand to benefit.
We have not heard one professional educator, the same ones who have just boosted the state high school graduation rate to 86 percent, the highest in history, brag about how their students or schools are being helped by this law.
Instead, 30 school superintendents signed a “friend of the court” brief and filed it with the state supreme court supporting a lower court’s ruling that the law is unconstitutional. Of these, only eight have “failing” schools in their systems.
However the proponents press on. They continue to say, “It’s all about the children,” and that folks opposing the legislation are distorting facts.
So let’s talk about some facts.
* Under No Child Left Behind, parents have had the opportunity to transfer kids from schools that did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress for years. We did not have to have the accountability act to do this.
In the 2012-13 school year, there were 83,739 students eligible to be transferred. A total of 1,174 did. That’s 1.4 percent.
So the accountability act simply duplicated something already in place—except this time we gave big business $25 million in tax breaks to support private schools rather than public schools.*
* According to their annual report, the Riley SGO raised $17.8 million in 2013 from 25 donors. That’s an average of $712,000 each. They get a dollar for dollar credit against their state income tax liability by giving to the SGO. This is money that would otherwise go straight to the Education Trust Fund.
There are nine SGOs in Alabama. On the web sites of two of them there is information about how business donors can also decrease their Federal tax liability by claiming their SGO donation as a charitable contribution. So not only are these donors not paying their fair share to support Alabama schools, they are actually making money in the process by reducing their Federal tax bill.
- The stated intent of the AAA is very clear. Provide financial assistance through an income tax credit to a parent who transfers a student from a failing public school to a nonfailing public school or nonpublic school of the parent’s choice.
Nowhere in the bill does it say it is intended to be a tax break for big business or a helping hand for private schools. We were told over and over that it was strictly to “help kids stuck in failing schools by their zip codes.” But increasingly we are learning that many of the scholarships have been given to kids who are already students in private schools and to those not in failing schools.
But the proponents of this legislation, the same folks who made sure no one in the education community had a hand in crafting it continue to claim “it is all about the children” as they trot out the AEA boogeyman and say it’s all their fault. Unfortunately, they cherry pick the opposition and fail to mention that it is also opposed by the state superintendent of education, the state school board, the school superintendents association, the school board association, etc.
And they stick to the talking points used by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in Washington about government schools and opportunity scholarships instead of public schools and vouchers.
As to government schools, EVERY school system in alabama is governed by a local school board comprised of either elected or appointed lay people. As to vouchers, when money destined for public schools is sent to private schools instead, you can call it a duck if you wish, but it still quacks. So while the ALEC rhetoric sounds good to the uniformed, it is not accurate.
For the record, I am not, nor have I ever been an educator or a member of AEA. I am a nearly 72-year old retiree who is not on anyone’s payroll. I spent a lot of my career in community and economic development. I have probably been in as many high poverty schools and their communities as any lay person in Alabama.
No one wants to see education more forward more than I do. But the Alabama Accountability Act is not the direction to take—as any good school person will tell you.