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.
A brand new scholarship granting organization (SGO) in now in operation to take in contributions and direct them to private school scholarships. Read about it here. However, this one is unique as only students attending Catholic schools in central and north Alabama can get scholarships.
While it is officially known as C2 Scholarships, it could just as easily be named the “Get More Bang For Your Buck” SGO.
Here’s why. Under the law creating the Alabama Accountability Act, contributors to a SGO get a tax CREDIT from the state of Alabama on their state income tax. This means if they contribute $1,000, the state allows them to deduct $1,000 from their Alabama income tax bill.
However, if the same person gives $1,000 to a Catholic school for a scholarship, they only can claim a tax DEDUCTION on their state income tax. Suppose the donor is in the 30 percent income bracket, then they only get a deduction of 30 percent times $1,000 ($300) when they file.
According to my sources at the state revenue department, SGOs are the only charitable organizations that are treated this way. Everyone else, like Boy Scouts, United Way and your church don’t qualify.
This is just one more flaw in this law that has diverted $145 million from Alabama public schools.
From the beginning, Catholic schools have gobbled up SGO scholarships. A quick check of scholarships awarded last fall from five SGOs shows that three of them gave out a total of 1,127 scholarships to Catholic schools. That is 30 percent of the total of 3,659 awarded in the quarter ending Sept. 30, 2018. The largest recipient was McGill-Toolen in Mobile with 116. According to info on the school’s website, that is about 10 percent of their student body on AAA scholarships.
Though Sacred Heart Catholic in Anniston only had 47 scholarships last fall, that is about 17 percent of their student body. And it is common knowledge around Anniston some scholarships are used to recruit basketball players. Sacred Heart got their first AAA scholarships in 2015. That same year they won the boy’s state basketball title in division 1 A. They did the same in 2016, 2017 and 2018. This year they competed in division 2 A and finished as state runner up.
Since a donation to a SGO never gets to the state, technically it is not state money funding scholarships. This is how we skirt the prohibition about church and state. However, since the state is giving a dollar for dollar tax break to donors on their income tax and all income tax goes directly to the Education Trust Fund, public schools are still the loser in all of this.
From time to time one of the folks working for an Alabama scholarship granting organization speaks out. Which is well, fine and good and what they are paid to do.
However, more often that not their message is long on fluff and short on facts and simply ignores the larger picture involving public education in Alabama. Here is the latest example, penned by my friend Lesley Searcy, who runs the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund.
Some 22 local schools board have now passed resolutions calling on the legislature to repeal the Alabama Accountability Act. They represent more than 200,000 students in public schools. So Lesley starts off by chiding these boards for turning their back on underprivileged students.
But considering that there are 722,000 students in public schools and only 3,600 on scholarships to private schools, who is turning their back on children who really need help? Who is taking money from 722,000 students to help only 3,600? How is that equity?
And what Lesley does not seem to understand is that public schools systems are SUPPOSED to work for kids in public schools, not those in private schools. I was on the Montgomery school board last October when we passed a repeal resolutions. Every school board member in the state is required to sign an affirmation that they “shall actively promote public support for the school system.” I find it ironic that Lesley thinks we should ignore the oath we took and the affirmation we signed.
She also states that there is a waiting list of 20,000 students wanting to attend a private school on a scholarship. But I don’t understand this as numbers from the SGOs themselves show that we had 5,792 scholarships in 2014, but only 3,668 in 2018. SGOs say they have raised $106.8 million since 2014. At $6,500 per scholarship that is enough to fund 16,430. But only 12,750 have been awarded since 2014.
So the numbers ain’t adding up. And here is something else that doesn’t add up. Since the program began in 2013, SGOs have raised $145 million but only awarded $90.7 million in scholarships. Where is that other $55 million?
Granted, SGOs get to keep up to five percent of their contributions for admin expenses. In the case of the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund, this is $3,308,688 since they have raised $66.l million.
The irony here is that every dollar raised for scholarships is a dollar diverted from the state’s Education Trust Fund for the support of public schools. So SGOs are taking money that should go to public schools and using it to try and divert more money from public schools This seems a bit like Nick Saban paying for an Auburn assistant football coach.
Lesley also states that a report from the University of Alabama says that scholarship students are doing better in private school than if they were in public schools. I have looked at this report. I spent an hour recently with Dr. Joan Barth of the University of Alabama who did the research and wrote this report.
If scholarship students are outperforming others, Dr. Barth failed to tell me. In fact, here is exactly what the report says:
Findings of Objective 2: Compare the learning achievement of scholarship recipients to students attending public schools.
- There were very few subject areas in which more than 50% of the students met proficiency standards for either group of students.
- For the ACT Aspire, comparisons did not present a clear pattern across subjects and grade levels to indicate that one group performed better or worse than the other.
- Overall, scholarship recipients in the 11th grade performed about the same as their public school counterparts on the ACT.
Pardon me, but darn if I can see how this supports the contention that scholarship students are doing better than their peers.
Finally, Lesley makes the point of stating that three-fourths of scholarship recipients are African American, Hispanic or multiracial. I would remind her that we have 163,000 African American students in Alabama who can not afford to buy their lunch.
Who is looking out for them? Don’t they matter?
Truth is, public schools are looking out for them because they do matter.
Recently Morgan County and Washington County school boards joined the other 20 local systems who have passed resolutions calling on the legislature to repeal the Alabama Accountability Act.
These 22 systems represent 204,505 students. This is almost 29 percent of all students in Alabama.
Other systems who have taken similar action include:Baldwin, Montgomery,Mobile, Jefferson, Bibb, Geneva, Henry, Houston, Marion, Randolph, Tallapoosa, Butler, Randolph, Covington and Blount counties and Andalusia, Opp, Roanoke, Leeds and Winfield city systems.
There are 105 members of the House of Representatives and 35 Senators. It is significant that these 22 systems have a total of 54 house members and 30 senators representing them.
Republican Del Marsh singlehandedly passed the infamous Alabama Accountability Act in 2013 that has diverted $145 million from the state’s public schools and has done nothing to help struggling schools. Now he has launched another sneak attack on public schools by insisting the Alabama College and Career Ready standards (which he once supported wholeheartedly) do not work either and calling for the state to “eat” the millions of dollars spent on putting them in place.
But wait, he’s not through.
This time he is going after the football program at the University of Alabama. He wants wholesale changes and far more accountability than the program now has and is developing legislation that he says will result in the perfect football program and avoid the “embarrassment” of last Jan. 7 when the University lost the national championship game to Clemson, 44-12.
Marsh says he is sick and tired of seeing the highest paid football coach in the country (Nick Saban makes $8.3 million a year) get beat on national TV while Alabama becomes the laughing stock of the country..
When questioned by a reporter about his experience in coaching and running major football programs, Marsh pointed out that he knows as much about football as he does about education and believes experience is vastly over-rated in both coaching and running schools.
Marsh believes that a football program with endless resources like the one in Tuscaloosa should settle for nothing less than perfection. He points out that this fall Bama will pay10 football assistant coaches $7.5 million, an increase of $1.4 million from 2018. And this comes fresh on the heels of the school losing the biggest game it had ever played.
Nick Saban has coached in Tuscaloosa for 12 seasons. Yet, he has only had one undefeated season. Senator Marsh doesn’t think this is good enough. He points out that Coach Bear Bryant coached 25 years in Tuscaloosa and had three undefeated seasons. Bryant’s salary in his final year was only $450,000.
Marsh contends that we should roll back the clock with the university’s football program just as he is trying to do with Alabama schools. He intends to pass legislation that will do just this. For instance it may say that the team can only use the wishbone offense or can not throw more than ten passes in a game.
When reporters pressed Marsh to detail how much success the Alabama Accountability Act has brought to state schools, he chastised them for bringing up meaningless details.
Editor’s note: Hopefully readers will quickly see that this is satire. However, the point being made–that Senator Marsh has no better understanding of what challenges education faces than he does about Coach Saban’s football program–is no less valid.
President Trump had hardly taken the oath of office in January 2017 when his advisor, Kellyanne Conway, told us on Meet The Press about “alternative facts.” She was trying to defend press secretary Sean Spicer for disputing how many people attended the Trump inauguration.
Host Chuck Todd simply told her, “Look, alternative facts aee not facts. They’re falsehoods.”
That incident came immediately to mind when I read the latest attempt by Senate Majority Leader Del Marsh trying to once again defend the Alabama Accountability Act. You can see the article here.
The good senator begins with a statement we all agree with: “I firmly believe that every child in Alabama deserves access to a quality education that prepares them for a successful career and fulfilling life.”
So does everyone else. But Marsh ignores the fact that we have 722,212 students in Alabama public schools while the accountability act is only giving scholarships to 3,659 of them. Somehow 3,659 out of 722,212 does not add up to EVERY CHILD.
There have now been 20 local school board to pass resolutions calling for the repeal of the accountability act. Obviously Marsh is aware of what is going on across the state because he says, “Regrettably, several local school boards recently passed resolutions calling for an end to the Alabama Accountability Act. They claim that participating students are not making academic gains and that the program takes money away from public schools’ budgets.
“Neither of these are true.
A recent University of Alabama report showed that students on AAA scholarships did better academically overall than low-income students in public schools and took steps toward equaling the performance of all Alabama students regardless of their demographic.”
Actually what is not true is the Marsh statement.
Here is the conclusion of the most recent University of Alabama study comparing students on AAA scholarships to others.
The purpose of the evaluation is to assess how the scholarship program enacted through the AAA affects the academic achievement of students in the program. Throughout the report many concerns have been voiced about the reliability and validity of the findings due to unknown factors associated with missing achievement tests and due to issues related to subsamples included in specific comparisons, such as whether a subsample of students accurately represented the larger group of scholarship students. Within these limitations, the report made use of the available information to describe how well the scholarship recipients in the 2016-17 academic year performed. The evaluation addressed three objectives to reach this goal:
The first objective described the achievement test results of the scholarship recipients and revealed that generally these students DID NOT PERFORM (all caps added) as well as other students in the U.S. Other indicators, such as the NAEP assessments, are consistent with these results, finding that students in the state of Alabama do not perform as well as students elsewhere in the country.
When compared to Alabama public school students on ACT Aspire and ACT scores in Objective 2, there was no consistent pattern indicating that one group performed BETTER OR WORSE across grade levels. Only a small percentage of students took the ACT Aspire or the ACT, which hampers the ability of this report to draw definite conclusions.
Finally, the evaluation assessed if scholarship recipients’ achievement scores improved, declined or remained the same over time. Similar to their public-school counterparts, findings suggested that, on average, SCORES SHOWED LITTLE IMPROVEMENT OVER TIME.
Would someone please show me where this reports says AAA students “did belter academically overall?”
Just like Kellyanne Conway, Senator Marsh has “alternative facts.”
As to his second comment about AAA taking money from public schools, he doesn’t bother to defend this allegation. But then “alternative facts” can sometimes be worrisome that way.
As Senator Marsh knows, every dollar that goes to a scholarship for a student to attend a private school is diverted from the state’s Education Trust Fund through a tax credit to a donor. Since all income tax goes straight to the ETF, when money is switched from ETF to scholarships, that is money taken from public schools.
The state Revenue Department administers the accountability act. They have lots of info on a web site.
Alabama Accountability Act
Senator Marsh needs to look at it sometime. One thing he will find are reports from scholarships granting organizations that show that through the end of 2018, these groups have collected $145,003,640 from donors. That is $145 million that did not get to ETF. That is not an “alternative fact.”
Finally, Senator Marsh tells us: “The funding for AAA scholarships is less than half of 1 percent of the overall state education budget. I do not believe that this small amount is too much to pay so that children and their parents have the ability to choose the type of education that sets them up for future success.”
Wow, I now know that $145 million is a “small amount” in the grand scheme of things. And Senator Marsh is a deep-fried CONSERVATIVE?
As a former member of the Montgomery County school board, I will be happy to arrange for the senator to visit some of our schools and classrooms. He can visit BTW magnet where students are crammed on top of each other because their school burned to the ground last year. He can tell the students $145 million is nothing. Or visit any of the teachers who are constantly using DonorChoose to try and scratch up supplies for their children.
For sure he will come away with real facts, not ones pulled from thin air.