By Minority Leader Rep. Craig Ford
This week, the Alabama House of Representatives once again has to vote on legislation that is meant to “fix” a bill that was rushed through the process and not thought-out before it became law.
If there has been a theme for the past three years since the Republican Supermajority took control of the state legislature, it has been unintended consequences.
Unintended consequences that have lead to long lines at the DMV and the possibility of innocent good Samaritans and churches facing criminal charges for giving a ride to an illegal immigrant.
Now the Republican leadership in Montgomery is asking the legislature to “fix” the Alabama Accountability Act.
Of course, there is no fixing the Accountability Act. There are too many problems with this law and the way it was passed. No amount of new laws or regulations will change the fact that the Accountability Act steers millions of dollars away from our public schools and puts them into a voucher program.
And the proposed “fixes” that Republicans in the Alabama legislature are offering don’t address any of the concerns that have been mentioned by the public. The Republicans’ “fixes” do not protect funding for public schools, or address the issue of the fairness of the vouchers. These “fixes” do not do anything to help the “failing schools” perform better or answer the question of whether it is even proper to divert millions of taxpayer dollars from public schools to private schools.
Instead, the first of the Republicans’ “fix” bills is a bill that would allow “non-failing schools” to deny admission to students from failing schools.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t the whole point of the vouchers to give students a choice in what schools they attend?
Now we see what the true intent of the so-called Accountability Act really is. School boards, educators and administrators are put under extreme pressure for their students to perform well on standardized tests. There is no motivation for a “non-failing school” to accept a student from a “failing school”. So this fist “fix” bill actually makes it harder for students to transfer to better performing schools.
But this is not the only “fix” Republicans are offering for the Accountability Act. A second proposal would increase the tax credit for those who donate to the scholarship fund. The tax credit would double under this proposal and be paid for out of the statewide education budget.
A third “fix” bill would guarantee that the vouchers would be given to those who already send their children to private schools, even if their children never attended a “failing school.”
The chairman of the House Ways and Means – Education Committee has said that he expects at least 25 percent of the 61,0000 children currently enrolled in private schools to be eligible for the tax credit.
Now we have only budgeted $50 million for the vouchers. But if 25 percent of the 61,000 children currently enrolled in private schools receives a voucher, it would cost the state over $53 million next year alone. That is already more than we have budgeted, and not one penny of it going to help a child currently enrolled in a “failing school.”
Now how do any of these proposals from Republican Supermajority in the Alabama Legislature “fix” the Accountability Act or improve the quality of education in “failing schools”?
As Democrats have said all along, the Accountability Act cannot be “fixed” or repaired. And the so-called “fixes” that Republicans are offering only make a terrible law even worse!
This is not leadership, and it certainly is not responsible. There is only one solution for how to deal with the Accountability Act: repeal.
The right thing to do is to repeal the Alabama Accountability Act and go back to the original, responsible education reform proposal that was supported by educators, school boards, and the superintendents and passed unanimously by Republicans and Democrats in the Alabama Senate.
The Accountability Act is a terrible law that passed in an unethical and ugly way. The “fix” bills being offered by the Republican leadership only make this bad bill worse. It’s time to do the right thing; the responsible thing. It is time to repeal the Accountability Act. That is the only solution.
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.