By Representative Craig Ford
When the Republican Supermajority in Montgomery rammed the Accountability Act through the legislature, they did so without any idea how as to how much it would cost.
So when they wrote the education budget, they took a guess and set aside $40 million of your tax dollars (just for this year) to pay for tax credits to send kids in certain school systems to private school.
Republican leaders called this plan “historic” and “life-altering,” and that kids “never had a choice (in schools)” before the Accountability Act.
These claims are flat-out wrong. Under the Accountability Act, 719 children transferred to a different public or private school. But last year, more than twice that many children (about 1,800) transferred to a better public school under the No Child Left Behind Act.
So the Accountability Act hasn’t give kids more options. In fact, it has given fewer kids an option.
The authors of the Accountability Act are trying to take credit for something they didn’t do. The Accountability Act was never about giving kids in failing schools a chance to attend a better public school. Kids could already do that.
The Accountability Act had only one purpose: to use your tax dollars to send some children to private school.
Now I don’t have anything against private schools. But I do have a problem with using public money to fund private education. It’s just not right! You and I already pay for our local public schools. Why should we also be paying for someone else to send his or her child to a private school?
But aside from the moral argument, the Accountability Act just simply isn’t accomplishing what Republican leaders said it would.
This year, only 52 children are transferring to a private school under the Accountability Act.
Republican leaders say we need more time to see if more families will use the tax credits in the future. But we don’t, and here’s why:
The tax credits are a catch twenty-two. In order to get the tax credit, a child has to enroll in a private school and pay their tuition for a year. But in order to afford that tuition payment, the family first needs the tax credit. Getting a tax credit at the end of the year isn’t going to do any good.
Furthermore, only 15 percent of the state’s private schools currently are willing to accept children from failing public schools. So even if these families had the money, at least right now many of them don’t have anything to choose from.
That is why I can tell you that the Accountability Act has clearly failed.
But there is still the issue of the $40 million that has been set aside for these tax credits. Only 52 kids transferred schools under the Accountability Act. At $3,500 per child for the tax credit, that is only $182,000. So we are left with $39.8 million dollars that was taken out of our schools and is now sitting in the bank.
What are we going to do with that money?
Republican leaders say they want to use the money to pay back the $437 million that was borrowed a few years ago. But we already have a payment plan for that debt, and using the $40 million to get a little ahead on that debt repayment will do nothing to help kids in failing schools.
So let’s use that money to improve the quality of education in every school in Alabama.
There is an easy and proven way we can do this.
The Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative, more commonly known as AMSTI, is one of the top math and science programs in the country! It has been proven to improve academic performance in every subject, not just in math and science.
CEOs and Education experts from around the world have praised AMSTI, and just a few weeks ago, Gov. Bentley told the press that we need to put more funding into the program.
So now we have a way to do that. By repealing the Accountability Act and redirecting the money set aside for the tax credits into the AMSTI program, we can bring AMSTI to every school in Alabama within five years. And even if there isn’t enough money to bring it to every school, we can still expand AMSTI to hundreds of schools and thousands of students who currently aren’t participating in the program.
This is education reform that we know works, and that everyone on both sides of the aisle has supported. So let’s stop wasting time and money gambling on the Accountability Act, and start investing that money in our children’s education.
Representative Craig Ford is a Democrat from Gadsden and the House Minority Leader.