Montgomery freshman Republican house member Charlotte Meadows wants to amend the current Alabama Accountability Act to allow donors giving to scholarship giving organizations (SGO) to get an even larger tax break than they currently can. Each dollar given to a SGO is one less dollar going to the Education Trust Fund.
Presently donors get a 50 percent tax credit for half of their donation. Meadows wants to increase this to 75 percent.
The Accountability Act has never lived up to its promises.
Figures from the Revenue Department which administers the bill, show a total of $148 million have been donated in the past seven years. Originally, total donations per year were capped at $25 million. However, this was later changed to $30 million. But records show that the cap has only been reached one time, an indication that the program has never been embraced by tax payers.
In fact, in 2019, the last year figures are available, donations were only $15.9 million, just slightly more than one half of the $30 million cap. So Meadows has come up with her bill as a “workaround” in an effort to entice more contributions.
Of course, when this bill was rammed through the legislature under very strange circumstances in 2013, bill sponsor Senator Del Marsh wanted us to believe it was a magic potion which would “help poor students stuck in failing schools’.” The only problem is that it has done anything but. Numbers taken from SGO annual reports show that in the fall of 2020 there were only 2,925 students receiving AAA scholarships to private schools. This was the lowest number since the program began..
And what about those students stuck in “failing schools?” That never happened either. Of the 2,925 last fall, only 33.4 percent met the qualification of “zoned” to attend a failing school.. And this number is bogus because a student can be zoned for a failing school, but have never set foot in one.
And how are these scholarship students doing? Not very well says the The Institute for Social Science Research at the University of Alabama which has now reviewed AAA three times. In their most recent report, for school year 2018-19, the institute says, “Six years after the passage of the AAA, there is no evidence that the scholarship program has resulted in academic achievement that is superior to Alabama public schools.”
Is it any wonder that 24 local school boards have passed resolutions calling for AAA to be abolished?
Shortly after the bill was passed in 2013, Senator Marsh was asked why he did not consult with any educators when creating the bill. Remarkably, his response was, “Because they might have objected to it.”
But give Marsh credit for one thing–he still refuses to work with educators. Just yesterday in a committee meeting about another education bill sponsored by Marsh, when Senator Vivian Figures asked him if had talked to educators he said he had no interest in doing so.
The first post I wrote on the blog six years ago was about the Alabama Accountability Act. I have written more than 100 others since then.
It was a scam back then, and time has proven that it still is.
AAA doesn’t need another amendment. It needs to be abolished.
A few days ago a group calling themselves USA Academy plan to start a football program in Elmore County and attach a “school” to it. As one friend told me, “Normally we have schools looking for football teams, but this is a football team looking for a school.”
Even in football-crazed Alabama, this development is more than “over-the-top.”
You can read all about this venture in this piece by Josh Bean, with AL.com.
The football program will be run by Rush Propst, a very successful high school coach in Alabama and Georgia, and someone who has been more than a little controversial throughout his career.
Supposedly the primary purpose will be to produce high school players who can readily find college teams to play for.
Here is the part of Bean’s article that most caught my attention:
“Will in-state students be eligible to receive Accountability scholarships?
The Alabama Accountability Act, originally passed in 2013 by the state Legislature, allows taxpayers to donate to scholarship granting organizations, known as SGOs. The SGOs distribute scholarships to low-income students in kindergarten through 12th grade to use in participating schools.
DeVaughn said in-state USA Academy students will be able to access Accountability scholarships. In addition, he said he’s already spoken to two scholarship granting organizations and received positive feedback and confirmed the school also plans to create its own scholarship granting organization.
Scholarship students using tax credit scholarships must take standardized tests in English language arts and math, and they must take the ACT college entrance exam before graduating.”
Isn’t this program that has diverted $155 million from the Education Trust Fund all about helping “poor kids stuck in failing schools by their zip code?” After all, this is what the public has been told over and over and over again since the Accountability Act was passed in 2013.
And certainly no one would ever dare deceive the good taxpayers of Alabama.
As soon as the 2013 accountability act met the light of day (remember it was crafted behind closed doors with no input from educators), the public was told that its only purpose was to help students stuck in “failing schools”.
In fact, “failing schools” are mentioned on line 16 of the first page of the original act and are referenced numerous times in the following 26 pages. And no doubt many of the lawmakers who voted for this bill actually thought this was the case. After all, many later admitted that they did not read the bill before voting to pass it and believed what leadership told them..
But time has proven that this contention is just a sham.
The terminology of “failing schools” was inserted in the bill so that parents of students in one of these schools could apply to the state for an income tax credit to offset the expense of moving a child to a non-failing school. (The bill arbitrarily says that the bottom six percent of all schools will be deemed as “failing.” Why six percent? Apparently someone’s Ouija board suggested it.)
So every year the state department of education releases a list of schools (he most recent has 76 schools on it) they determine are “failing.” (However, two of the current schools on the list received a B on the A-F school report card grading system.)
There are about 40,000 students in these schools. These are the students we were told that the scholarships to private schools created by the accountability act would benefit the most.
But that has never been the case. For instance, in the fall of 2018, the seven scholarship granting organizations handing out scholarships only had 3,685 students as recipients. Of these, only 1,235 were identified as “zoned” to attend a failing school. That was 33.5 percent of all scholarships. Even this number is suspect because a student may be “zoned” for a “failing school” without ever having set foot in one.
And what about those parental tax credits? In 2018, just 120 parents claimed a credit on their state income tax.
That’s 120 out of a potential of about 40,000. The most that have ever been claimed was180 in 2016.
Yet, we are still supposed to believe that this law’s primary purpose is “to help poor kids stuck in struggling schools by their zip code.”
Governor Ivey has said that she does not like the label of “failing schools.” Nor does anyone else, especially educators.
There is a simple solution. In the next legislative session this law should be amended and all references to “failing schools” eliminated. As the numbers show, only a handful of parents are using the tax credit while 40,000 students are being labeled as “failing.”
It is time to end this charade.
Governor Ivey’s comment at the state school board work session last week about “failing schools” opened the door for what should have long been done–a thorough look at the Alabama Accountability Act and it’s shortcomings.
FAILING SCHOOLS is largely a gimmick inserted in the act to throw a bone to parents who move their kids from failing to non-failing schools. In fact, it is mentioned in the first paragraph of the original bill:
“to provide an income tax credit to any parent who transfers a student enrolled in or assigned to attend a failing public K-12 school to a nonfailing public school or nonpublic school of the parent’s choice”
However, according to a reliable source, only about 100-125 parents apply for such a tax deduction when filing their state income tax.
(This act is administered by the Revenue Department, not the Department of Education, and each year they work with the Department of Education to try and verify if the children of those asking for this deduction were, in fact, attending a failing school. It is not uncommon to find a few cases where there is no record of children having been enrolled in any Alabama school.)
The law also says that when a child transfers, 20 percent of the money that normally would leave the school with them must remain with the failing school. This amounts to only about $900 per student.
It certainly appears that amending the law and eliminating any reference to “failing schools” would have virtually no impact on how the program is administered–and it would eliminate the present confusion caused by having one list of “failing schools” and another list of schools graded by a letter grade of A-F.
Our present system makes no sense.
We are told there are now 75 “failing schools.” Yet, the latest A-F ranking shows there are only 24 F schools in the state (out of 1,315). Five of these F schools are not on the failing list. But 43 D schools are on it, along with 11 Cs and two rated as a B. This is downright bizarre and nonsense of the highest order.
How do you explain to a principal and faculty who celebrate a B that they are on the failing list? You don’t.
The failing school portion of the accountability act should be scrapped as it serves no useful purpose.
There are presently seven scholarship granting organizations (SGOs) giving out scholarships to private schools through the Alabama Accountability Act. They make quarterly reports and the one that covers July, August, September of 2019 has just been released. Since this report covers the start of a new school year, it is especially insightful.
Particularly since we are now having high school football playoffs.
While it is seldom discussed publicly, especially by those who support this legislation, it is no secret that some private schools make good use of AAA scholarships to boost their athletic programs.
Heading into the second week of football playoffs, there are 16 private schools still in competition in all seven football classifications. The just-released SGO reports show nine of these have scholarships. A grand total of 377 to be exact.
The biggest benefactor is McGill-Toolen in Mobile with 108. Next is Faith Academy, also in Mobile with 77. Montgomery Catholic Prep has 63, St. John Paul Catholic of Huntsville has 58 and Mobile Christian has 38.
Of the nine schools with scholarships, their overall record this season is 84 wins and 14 losses. In fact, four of them are undefeated as of this date.
As we all recall, when this legislation was passed in 2013 we were told its primary purpose was to help students stuck in struggling schools by their zip codes. No one said a word about touchdowns.
Editor’s note: The new quarterly reports show a total of 5,006 scholarships were awarded this school year, a sizeable jump from 3,685 in the same quarter last year. Of these, only 33.5 percent went to students “zoned” for failing schools. A total of $11.1 million was spent on these scholarships.
This program has now diverted more than $155 million from the Education Trust Fund since 2013. And is the primary reason 25 local school boards have passed resolutions calling for repeal of this legislation.
Lost in all the recent commotion about the Washington County charter fiasco, the legislative effort to go from an elected state school board and much more, is the news that the Tarrant City and Conecuh County school systems have now joined with 22 other systems passing resolutions to repeal the Alabama Accountability Act.
This means that systems with more than 207,000 of the 722,000 students in public schools statewide have joined this push.
As we recall, when this bill was passed in 2013 its supporters said it was all about “helping poor kids stuck in failing schools by their zip code.” Of course, that was so much baloney then, just as it is now. Proof is in the fact that a majority of students in both Tarrant City and Conecuh County receive free-reduced lunches. The very students AAA is supposed to help the most.
Previously, Baldwin, Montgomery, Mobile, Jefferson, Bibb, Geneva, Henry, Houston, Marion, Randolph, Tallapoosa, Butler, Covington, Morgan, Washington and Blount county systems passed resolutions. City systems that have are Andalusia, Opp, Roanoke, Leeds, Russellville and Winfield.