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School Accountability Act Gets a Substitute

By Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY–On Tuesday, a public hearing on the School Accountability Act was held before the Senate Education Committee. Even though the bill has been passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor last month, the bill’s sponsor President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) brought it back into committee for additional changes. He said,  “It is my hope that by next Wednesday we can bring all of these things together under one piece of legislation and get it moving through the Senate.”
Marsh said that he would like to open up the bill to include broader school choice making it available to children in lower income ranges and that he intended to add an amendment to that effect.
“House Bill 84 is law. All we are doing is modifying existing law,” said Marsh. The bill is being reviewed as the SB360 substitute.
Superintendent Tommy Bice was in attendance. He said that he felt very encouraged by the meeting. He said, “I heard some things that were real positive.”
Also encouraged was Senator and Committee Member Vivian Figures (R-Mobile) who said, “It was a great public hearing. I was encouraged that at least this time we had a public hearing to hear from all of the entities that were involved in it.”
At the request of Sally Brewer Howell, executive director of Alabama Association of School Boards, Marsh agreed to hold the bill out for an additional week to confer with concerned entities.
In addition to the points that Marsh presented at the meeting, other concerns were brought up by speakers at the meeting such as costs of transportation and parental income ceilings focusing tax credits more specifically directed at lower income families.
Figures said, “So the fact that Sen. Marsh is going to delay it for a week from it going anywhere to get with the people that testified is a great positive. I am definitely hoping we can move closer to bring in all of our schools up to high performance schools rather than letting just a few children have that opportunity.”
Senator Dick Brewbaker (R-Montgomery) said that while he liked some of the changes, he has concerns about the effectiveness of others.
Brewbaker said, “Adding an accreditation requirement for the non-public schools doesn’t really bring anything to the table because every one of the 200 failing schools has one thing in common–they are all accredited. So, I would say that accreditation in Alabama doesn’t really tell you much about school quality. So, laying that burden on non-public schools, I don’t understand what the benefit is.”
House Minority Leader Craig Ford responding to proposed changes in the Accountability Act said, “What they have done is make a bad bill worse. These changes will cost our schools more money and make it harder for students in failing schools to transfer to non-failing schools. As Democrats have said all along, the Accountability Act cannot be fixed. The only solution is to repeal it and go back to the version of the school flexibility bill that passed unanimously out of the senate and was supported by educators, school superintendents, and the school boards.”

The subjects of Marsh’s meeting talking points for SB360 Substitute were as follows:

Tax Credit for Parents of Students in Failing Schools
1. Public-to-public transferees must first seek to transfer within their current district.
2. Public-to-private transfers result in “leftover” tax credit remaining with former school.
3. Disabled transferees get same level of services as other dialed students in the school.
4. Transferee receives transportation services at same evel as other students in the system.

Tax Credit for Donors to Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGO) and SGO Awards
1. All shoals receiving tax credit recipients or scholarship recipiets uxt be accredited.
2. Corporate credit amount reflective of entire donation rather than half of the donation.
3. 3x Federal Poverty Level replaces 1.5x median household income as income threshold metric.

Generally Applicable Provisions
1. New “Failing School” definition focusses on persistent under performers and grading system.
2. Schools retain enrollment authority, subject to discrimination laws and desegregation orders.
3. Transfers must occur before ADM calculations begin.
4. No state funds flow because of this bill to any school, public or private.
5. Retroactivity to the day the Accountability Act became law (March 14).
6. Additional privacy and local autonomy protections for schools seeking flexibility.

The Alabama Accountability Act of 2013 gives children who are trapped in the state of Alabama’s worst public schools some options to seek an education elsewhere.  The bill also provides all Alabama school boards the opportunity to seek some flexibility from education regulation in order to attempt to improve their public schools.
The substitute will now be open for discussion until next Wednesday.

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