By Larry Lee
The Alabama Department of Revenue (ADOR) has made public the latest reports of scholarship granting organizations (SGO) participating in the Alabama Accountability Act. And once again we see how little accountability there really is in this law.
There are currently nine SGOs listed by ADOR. All were supposed to make a report showing info for Jan. 1, 2015 through June 30, 2015. This was due by Sept. 1, 2015. Two have made no reportsl. Of the remaining seven, one made no annual report and its “quarterly” report was from June 1, 2015 to Aug. 1, 2015. Two made no quarterly reports and one annual report was late.
Which means that of the nine, only three (AAA Scholarship Foundation, Montessori Society of Huntsville, Scholarships for Kids) have provided all required reports in a timely fashion.
According to an article from AL.com, my friend Leslie Searcy, executive director of the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund (the SGO created by former governor Bob Riley and operated out of Florida) says the accountability act is “certainly exceeding our expectations.”
Let’s step back and take a look at the program in its entirety and see if we agree. (Judging AAA on just a quarterly report would be like saying that if a football team is ahead at the end of first quarter, it won the game and we can all go home.)
Each dollar donated to an SGO is a dollar diverted from the Education Trust Fund and instead goes as a tax break for the donor. Total donations from the beginning of the program in 2013 until Oct. 22, 2015 were $54,395,485. This is nearly $54.4 million that potentially could not be used for class rooms, new buses, textbooks, etc.
Looking at every report ADOR has posted and checking and double-checking shows that a total of 10,220 scholarships have been awarded (remember that in the second year of the program, most go to a student enrolled the year before), 2,573 have gone to students either attending, or zoned to attend, a failing school and 1,374 have gone to students who were already enrolled in private schools.
Of course, when AAA was passed in 2013 we were told repeatedly that it was to help kids stuck in failing schools by the zip codes. Obviously this is not the case. Certainly those 1,374 scholarships that went to students already attending a private school did not remove a child from a failing school. And “attending” and “zoned to attend” are two totally different things. In the first instance, the child leaves a failing school. In the second instance, a child already attending a private school, but zoned to attend a failing public school, is totally different.
The two major SGOs are Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund and Scholarships for Kids. Together they have awarded 10,040 of the 10,220 scholarships now given out.
AOSF gave out 3,608 scholarships in 2014. The amended Accountability Act passed earlier this year states on page 3: to clarify and confirm that once an eligible student receives an educational scholarsip under this program that the student remains eligible to receive an educational scholarship unit the student graduates from high school or reaches 19 years of age.
However, AOSF only awarded 2,059 this year and Searcy points out that all went to previous recipients. So does this mean 1,549 were not renewed even though the law says they are eligible?
According to a report in the Montgomery Advertiser early this year, Ellwood Christian Academy in Selma had 198 students on scholarship from AOSF. However, when school started in August, 37 former Ellwood students enrolled in Selma city schools. Were these 37 students who expected scholarships and never got them?
We have 735,000 students in Alabama public schools. As best I can figure, the most we could now have on an AAA scholarship is 4,408. So we have diverted $54.4 million from 735,000 so we can help 4,408.
Really now. Exceeding expectations?