By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
When Gov. Bentley signed the Alabama Accountability Act into law, he acknowledged that there were, in his words, “Some concerns [that] have been raised regarding the impact of this legislation.” The governor also said he believed those concerns could be fixed through more rules and regulation.
At the same time, Republicans in the state legislature are saying that they hope to fix the Accountability Act with new legislation to address the concerns that have been raised.
Let’s be clear: the Accountability Act cannot be fixed.
No matter how many rules or regulations the governor creates, and no matter how many more bills the legislature passes, the Accountability Act will still redirect millions of dollars out of public schools and undermine our entire public education system.
The Republican leadership has tried to sell this new law as a program to allow students “school choice.” But the chairman of the education budget committee has estimated that only 10 percent of students will actually transfer out of failing schools.
If he is right, then how does this bill help the 90 percent of students who cannot leave a struggling school? If he is wrong and more students decide to transfer, then he has drastically underfunded the education budget and our schools will go into proration.
And that is just the beginning of what is wrong with this terrible bill.
No matter how many rules and regulations the governor creates, and no matter how many more bills the legislature may pass, this new law will still redirect millions of dollars out of our schools and abandon our public education system.
That is why the Accountability Act is a broken piece of legislation that cannot be fixed or made better. The only solution is to repeal this terrible law and go back to the original education reform proposal that we were debating before the bait-and-switch took place.
It is time for a “do-over” – not just because this is a terrible law, but also because of the deceitful and unethical way this legislation became law.
And that is why Democrats in the Alabama legislature have introduced a bill that would repeal the Alabama Accountability Act and go back to the original school flexibility proposal that was approved by educators, the Alabama Association of School Boards, the School Superintendents of Alabama, the state school superintendent, and was passed unanimously out of the state senate.
By going back to the original education reform proposal, we can accomplish two things. First, we can restore the integrity of the legislative process and of our state government. Secondly, we can erase this terrible bill and have an honest and open discussion about responsible education reform.
When Democrats announced this plan, some Republican leaders said we were “defending the broken status quo.” That’s an odd thing to say, considering what we are proposing to do is go back to the Republicans’ original education reform proposal and have the honest debate we were supposed to have on that plan.
Every child in Alabama deserves to receive a quality education. Giving our children a quality education doesn’t just increase their own economic opportunities, it helps our entire economy grow. When we talk about job creation and recruiting business and industry to Alabama, one of the first things prospective employers look at is the local school system. They want to know that there are trained and educated workers to fill the jobs they will bring.
But how can we provide our children with a quality education if we are undermining the integrity of our schools and cutting millions of dollars from the education budget?
If we are going to be serious about providing a quality public education to all of our children, then we need to look at responsible education reform and giving educators and school administrators the freedom they need to be innovative. What we can’t afford to do is take even more money and resources away from our schools and expect these schools to magically start performing better.
The Republicans cannot fix the Accountability Act. But we can repeal it and go back to the reform proposal that educators and legislators in both parties supported. That is the reasonable and responsible thing to do.
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.