By Rep. Darrio Melton
This week, I stood at a podium in Montgomery alongside other House Democrats to offer an alternative to the Alabama Accountability Act. What did Speaker Hubbard say? He said we proved the Democrats are out of good ideas.
As you know, the Accountability Act was intended to offer children a way out of struggling schools. The law offers tax credits to families who want to move their children into private schools. However, the tax credits aren’t enough to cover the entire cost of transferring, which leaves many students unable to take advantage of the opportunity to transfer schools.
Furthermore, the law states that schools are not obligated to accept a student from a failing school.
In its first year, only 719 students used the Accountability Act to transfer schools within their districts, while only 52 used the $3,500 tax credit to transfer to a private school.
The lawmakers set aside $40 million for the Accountability Act and also authorized up to $25 million in tax credits for donations to the scholarship program.
These tax credits are a dollar-for-dollar reduction in a tax bill. Between state and federal taxes, contributors will receive $1.35 a tax credit for every $1 they donate. That’s a $0.35 profit for the donor from our hard earned tax dollars.
When Speaker Hubbard said we were out of good ideas, I think he was wrong. I think it’s a good idea to invest our hard-earned tax dollars in all of our public schools, instead of giving away tax credits to a few students or to those who donate to the $25 million scholarship fund.
I think it’s a good idea to fully fund the programs that work, like the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative and the Alabama Reading Initiative. Even moreso, I think it’s a good idea to work with the Alabama Department of Education to reach their goals for 2020, instead of making educators’ work more difficult.
I also think it’s a good idea to fix our failing schools instead of bailing a few students out. I think it’s a good idea to use our tax dollars to invest in the next generation of Alabamians, not just in a select few, and to give every student a chance to graduate college or career ready.
What do you think? Are the Democrats out of good ideas? I think we continue to stand beside improving education in a way that is fair for all students. I may not always have all the answers, but I will continue to work for what is best for the families in my district. I hope the legislators who voted for this bill feel comfortable saying the same thing.
Representative Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010.