By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
It is amazing to read what some legislators have written in the weeks since the state legislature passed the so-called Alabama Accountability Act.
The Republicans in the Alabama legislature who concocted this bill and the deceitful (not to mention illegal) tactics to pass it, are now trying to tell us that they followed the rules and thoroughly debated this bill, which they also claim will revolutionize education. They have even tried to compare it to President Ronald Regan telling Gorbachev to tear down the iron curtain.
That comparison is insulting to both the voters and the memory of Ronald Regan, who never would have condoned elected officials passing a bill that the public had never had access to.
The deception used to pass this bill was so thick that legislative leaders even managed to deceive themselves and ended up passing one version of the bill in the conference committee and another version of the bill in the House and Senate!
In a recent editorial, Sen. Phil Williams said that the bill was “passed by a straight up or down vote after several hours of debate in both the House and Senate.”
That is a statement that is factually inaccurate and can be proven by checking the official record.
The House and Senate debated a nine-page bill called the “Local Control School Flexibility Act of 2013.” This bill only dealt with issues of school flexibility, and did not include anything about vouchers, tax credits, and allowing students to transfer schools.
The House passed the bill first. Then the Senate passed an amended version that the House rejected. So the bill went to conference committee in order to work out the differences. But that is not what happened.
The bill that came back from the conference committee went from 9 pages to 27 pages, was now called the “Alabama Accountability Act of 2013,” and included several new proposals that had NEVER been debated or even mentioned during the debate on the previous bill.
The House and Senate were each only allowed one hour to debate this new bill. And since it took about thirty minutes to read a 27-page bill, the House and Senate really only had thirty minutes to debate the bill – not several hours, as Sen. Phil Williams would have you believe.
But aside from the dishonest, unethical, and illegal method used to ram this bill through the legislature, the bill itself is a disaster for our children and their education.
First, this bill does not really give students choice in where they go to school. Only students in targeted school districts would even be allowed the option of choosing a different school, and most of these students cannot afford a private school education even with the vouchers.
Secondly, these vouchers will cost the state money. Nobody knows yet how much it will cost the state, but most estimates say it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. That money will come from the state’s education budget, and that means every single public school in the state will lose funding regardless of whether they meet academic standards. These cuts are not limited to K-12 schools. Every state supported pre-K program, and every college and university will lose money, too. And that means that tuition costs at these colleges and universities will go up even higher.
But the schools that will be hit hardest are the targeted schools, themselves. School funding is tied to the number of students enrolled. As students leave a school that school will have its budget cut, which means less money for textbooks, computers, field trips, athletics and extracurricular activities, and other learning tools.
Now how is that supposed to help a so-called “failing school” to improve?
And here’s the thing about calling these schools “failing.” This bill says that any school that is in the lowest 10 percent is considered “failing.” So even if a school is improving or exceeds state and federal standards, they can still be considered failing.
And the reason they chose that number is so that these elected officials could make sure that they got the vouchers for their kids if they live in a targeted school district. So these aren’t so much “failing” schools as they are “targeted” schools.
This is an ugly bill that was passed in an ugly way. Don’t let the Republicans who did this tell you otherwise.
Representative Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden. He has served in the Alabama House of Representatives since 2000. In 2010, Representative Ford was elected House Minority Leader by the House Democratic Caucus. He was re-elected Minority Leader in 2012.