By Larry Lee
When attendees at a recent Business Council of Alabama conference at Point Clear opened their “goody” bags, one of their treats was a flier asking “Do you pay Alabama income tax?” Open the flier and readers were told to “redirect your tax liability and provide a scholarship.”
This not-so-subtle message was delivered by way of the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund, the scholarship granting organization (SGO) set up by former governor Bob Riley and operated by a group in Florida. And it was attached to a ready-to-be blown-up colorful beach ball emblazoned with the Riley SGO logo.
Even though there are other SGOs in Alabama, they are obviously not in favor with BCA.
And even though BCA wants us all to think they are strong supporters of our public schools because their members need a more highly-educated and trained work force, they (or the Riley SGO) never mention that when someone takes a tax credit for supporting vouchers, every dollar they claim for a tax credit is a dollar diverted from the revenue stream for the Education Trust Fund that supports public schools.
Since this program began in 2013, it has diverted $72 million from ETF. And for the life of me, I can’t see how that helps public schools, the ones that have 740,000 students and turn out the vast majority of our work force.
The flier everyone at the meeting received had a nice state map claiming they have awarded scholarship in 40 counties. (Though every time I counted I came up with 39. Which seems correct since they say there are 28 counties without their scholarships and 39 + 28 equals 67.)
When the Alabama Accountability Act was created to set up this voucher program in 2013, the claim was that it was all about helping students in failing schools. But a look at the map shows this simply isn’t what has happened. There are 24 counties where scholarships have been given–and there is not one failing school in any of them.
Isn’t it logical to think that scholarships would be most used in places where schools are failing?
(Is this why the law was amended in 2015 to say that it was all about school choice, not helping failing schools?)
And there are five counties with failing schools where not one student has gotten a scholarship from the Riley SGO.
So here is an idea for the Riley folks. Take some of the beach balls (which are also paid for by money diverted from public schools) to failing schools that have not received scholarships and pass them out. Heck, some of these students might even blow up their ball and imagine they are at the Grand Hotel in Point Clear.