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AAA-Like Program in NC “Fails Children,” Judge Rules it Unconstitutional

Lee Hedgepeth



By Lee Hedgepeth
Alabama Political Reporter

RALEIGH, NC – A State Superior Court judge in North Carolina has held a program strikingly similar to the Alabama Accountability Act unconstitutional, saying it “fails children,” and is unlawful on at least half a dozen different legal grounds.

The law, called in North Carolina the “Hope Opportunity Scholarship,” was ruled unconstitutional at the end of last week in what some new media outlets reported as a “smack” of the State’s legislature.

Based mainly on the contention that public funding of private schools is unjustified under North Carolina’s constitution, the opinion of Wake County Superior Judge Robert Hobgood also ruled there were several other legal problems in the law, furthering factoring to his wide-ranging, but appealable decision.


North Carolina’s program, a mere lightweight compared to Alabama, totals $10 million in State funding, whereas here in the Yellowhammer State, the price of the AAA bottoms at $25 million and may reach as high as $30 to $50 million, according to the House committee who fiscally assessed the Accountability Act.

Judge Hobgood heavily criticized the program, in his opinion, which he announced from the bench:

“It appears to the court that the General Assembly is seeking to push at-risk students from low-income families into non-public school in order to avoid the cost of providing them with a sound, basic education,” he wrote.

“The General Assembly [North Carolina’s legislature] fails the children of North Carolina when they are sent with public, taxpayer money to private schools that have no legal obligation to teach them anything.”

According to one local district in our State, the Alabama Accountability Act, an extremely similar program, cost their school system a total of $268,000, an amount that forced them to cut jobs, particularly those of library aides throughout the system.

Below are some of the judge’s conclusions as to the law’s constitutionality:

1. appropriates higher ed money to K-12
2. appropriates ed fund in a manner that does not accomplish public purpose
3. appropriates ed funds outside of oversight of state board of education
4. creates a non-uniform system of education
5. appropriates taxpayer funds to educational institutions that have no standards, curriculum, and requirements for teachers and principals to be certified.
6. Fails to guard the right of any child to a public educational
7. allows funding of non-public schools that discriminate on account of religion

In Alabama, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Gene Reese has already ruled the Alabama Accountability Act unconstitutional, though he issued an injunction until an appeal can be ruled on.

In Florida, the a pre-trial injunction was filed to allow the program to continue dispersing money and accepting application until the issue was legally resolved. That matter was the result of a suit by some parents in the Sunshine State, represented by the Institute for Justice, an organization funded by the Koch brothers.

Ironically, the Institute of Justice has reappeared with new Alabama plaintiffs, and will be appealing the Montgomery County judge’s decision striking down our State’s law.

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Checking in on the Alabama Accountability Act

Larry Lee



By and large the legislature passes laws and seldom looks back to see what impact they are having.  Which seems a HUGE mistake to me.  The Alabama Accountability Act passed in 2013 being a prime example.

So from time to time I visit the Alabama Department of Revenue web site where they post info about AAA.  It’s always an interesting read.

For instance, you find a list current through Feb. 22, 2018 that shows there are now 204 private schools which have signed up to participate in this program that gives vouchers to students to attend private schools.  (This does not mean 204 schools have gotten scholarships, just that many have said they would take them.)

The state indicates if these schools are accredited or not.  Of the 204, 69 of them are NOT accredited.  That’s 33.8 percent.  AAA started in 2013 and 12 of the non-accredited schools have been that way since 2013.  One has to ask why we allow this to happen?  Why are we diverting money from the Education Trust Fund that may go to a school that has had five years to become accredited, but hasn’t?   Is this really looking out for the best interest of the young folks of this state?


For instance, the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund, one of the state’s scholarship granting organizations (SGO), reported that at the end of 2017, they had students at 114 private schools.  By my count, 166 of these scholarships are at 27 non-accredited schools.

The Department of Revenue keeps track of how much money is given to SGOs each year.  From 2013 through 2017, the total amount is $116,617,919.

Remember that each one of these dollars gets a one for one tax credit from the state.  Which means we have now diverted $116 million from the Education Trust Fund for private school scholarships.

Today there are 396,711 elementary students (K-6) in Alabama.  So over the past five years we have diverted $294 from ETF for each one of these students.  That is $7,000 per elementary classroom.

I visit a lot of elementary schools.  I see a lot of classrooms.  I don’t know a single elementary teacher who would not have jumped at the chance to have an extra $7,000 for her classroom since 2013.

In this legislative election year, we need to let every candidate, incumbents and challengers alike, know what is going on.

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Protecting our children

Bradley Byrne



For much of the year, the safety of our students rests in the hands of the faculty, staff, and resource officers at our schools.  Without a shadow of a doubt, the people who know best how to protect our schools are the teachers, parents, administrators, police officers, and students in their own communities.

In February, the tragic shooting in Parkland, Florida resonated throughout our communities, highlighting a disturbing trend of individuals who clearly show signs of grave mental instability falling through the cracks.

Sadly, this incident likely could have been avoided had there been better oversight at every level of law enforcement.  From the top down, we failed these students by not heeding the warning signs and working together as a team to ensure our students’ safety.

In response to this incident, the House recently passed the Student, Teacher’s Officer’s Prevention (STOP) School Violence Act, which provides grant funding for evidence-based training for our local law enforcement, school faculty and staff, and students to help identify and prevent school violence before these tragic events occur.


First, the STOP School Violence Act provides funding for training to prevent student violence, including training for local law enforcement officers, school personnel, and students in the event of an emergency.  This training would be designed to give students and school personnel the ability to recognize and respond quickly to warning signs of violent behavior and would include active shooter training.

Second, the bill provides funding for technology and equipment to improve school security.  This includes the development and operation of anonymous reporting systems, as well as the installation of metal detectors, locks, and other preventative technologies to keep schools secure.

The legislation also authorizes funding for school threat assessment and crisis intervention teams for school personnel to respond to threats before they become real-time incidents.  Recognizing the warning signs of violent, threatening behavior and having the proper resources to address it on the front end can prevent these tragedies from ever occurring.

Finally, the STOP School Violence Act provides funding to support law enforcement coordination efforts, particularly the officers who already staff schools.  From the federal level all the way down to our local law enforcement, we need to ensure there is accountability and communication when handling violent behavior.

Many of our local schools are already reevaluating their security measures and taking additional steps to promote a safe learning environment for our students.  Our students’ safety and security should always remain a top priority, and I believe it is imperative that our local schools have the most appropriate resources in place in the event of an emergency.

As we look for ways to prevent these terrible tragedies, I am open to additional solutions to address the underlying issues that cause these events to occur.  That said, I remain steadfastly committed to upholding the individual right of all law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms.  Millions of Americans should not have their Second Amendment rights infringed upon due to the bad actions of a few individuals.

Rather, I believe we should focus on addressing mental health issues and combatting the role of violence in our modern culture, such as the prevalence of violent video games that normalize this behavior for our young students, and promoting commonsense solutions that will address the larger issues of mental health so that those with mental illness do not fall through the cracks.

There is still work to be done to ensure each child’s safety and well-being while attending classes. However, I am proud that we have taken this action in the House to promote a safe, secure learning environment for our children.

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | When liberals help the poor they do more harm than good

Scott Beason



Stock Photo

On my Scott Beason Radio program this past Monday, a regular contributor mentioned that a bill to eliminate payday lending had passed the Alabama Senate, and I was surprised. Having dealt with the issue back when I was in office, I think payday lending gets a bum rap out in the mainstream media. These short term loans are an important part of the financial lending community and are often the only access to credit that some people have. I also wondered what special interest group is driving an agenda for which the general public nor the so called “poor” is clamoring. The answer is the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Republican supermajorities do not – or used to not – kowtow to the SPLC. If there is a more liberal group in the United States, this conservative is not aware of it. Maybe the legislators have bought into the SPLC propaganda that they are protecting the “poor”. … By eliminating the only means for credit the “poor” have? By eliminating the jobs of the 5,000 people in the state who work in the industry? That doesn’t make sense.

“Helping the poor” is a noble cause, in the generic sense of the words, but how does eliminating payday loans actually help the “poor”? How does making it more difficult for someone with limited means and bad credit to get the money they need to make it to the next paycheck help the “poor”? This question is the one that made it difficult for me to legislatively pursue the total destruction of the payday lending industry.

If a “poor” person needs $100 dollars on Wednesday to make it to Friday, where can he get it? The answer is nowhere, if there is no such thing as short term lending. These loans are simply too risky and too small for banks or credit unions to handle. If payday loans were workable at a lower interest rate, then someone would be doing it right now. You don’t have to change the law to do that. Just let capitalism work. I suggest that those who believe they can run a better business model for short term lending get out in the market and do so. Show us how to “help the poor” the “right” way.

What happened to free market Republicans in the Alabama legislature? There used to be enough to make up an entire caucus. Does the term, free market, mean nothing when the Southern Poverty Law Center says jump? In Washington DC Barack Obama tried to crush the payday loan industry, and now Republicans gleefully further Obama’s agenda in Alabama. Regulating a whole sector of the financial services industry out of existence is not the free market.


Another person on the radio show described working at his job and loaning his buddies $20 on Wednesday to help them make it to Friday. On payday they gave him back $25. He called it 20 for 25, and his friends appreciated being able to buy gas and food for those couple of days. 20 for 25 seems reasonable and harmless, but the cost to the borrower is more than is charged in Alabama’s payday lending industry. … I know. … It’s weird. … 20 for 25 did not seem “predatory” at all.

The “working poor” will continue to need small cash loans from time to time. That will not change, but we cannot help people by not allowing them to help themselves. All of our freedoms come with the risk of excess and of getting into trouble. Payday lending is simply another market based, regulated, and lawful financial service that replaced the mob supported loan sharks of days gone by. My friend, Senator Tom Whatley, who was apparently one of the few willing to talk about the free market on the Senate floor made a great point: the people who cannot get short term loans in Alabama will now get them online, or from people who want more than an interest rate. They want an arm or a leg. … Well said Mr. Whatley.

To help the “poor”, the legislature should stop helping. Prior legislation has straightened up the industry, and lawmakers should leave well enough alone. Let the payday lending legislation die a quiet death. It is not needed, and it hurts regular folks who are thankful that they have the option of a short term loan when they need one to make ends meet.

Scott Beason a former State Senator is the host of The Scott Beason Show on WYDE Superstation 101 in Birmingham.


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AAA-Like Program in NC “Fails Children,” Judge Rules it Unconstitutional

by Lee Hedgepeth Read Time: 2 min