By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
Ritchie Whorton has a problem with me.
On Thursday afternoon, the Representative from Owens Cross Roads slid into the State House elevator just before the doors closed and opened with: “What do you have against public schools?”
I had no idea what Whorton was talking about, so I responded with: “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Whorton explained, during one of the longest three-story elevator rides of my life, that I had written something “bad mouthing” his bill that was attempting to remove private schools’ sports teams from the Alabama High School Athletic Association.
I didn’t recall such a column, so I went back and checked. Turns out, I included Whorton’s bill and the debate over it during a House Education Committee meeting in a weekly roundup. I didn’t really “bad-mouth” Whorton, but I did point out the obvious problems with his bill – primarily that he was fighting against the one entity, the AHSAA, that’s actively working to solve the problems he’s concerned with and that it was the Legislature that created many of those problems.
Whorton’s biggest complaint is that the private schools have big advantages, especially in the lower classifications of the AHSAA and in the sports that would be deemed non-revenue generating in colleges – like volleyball, softball, golf, etc.
And you know what? Whorton’s right.
Those private schools do hold a distinct advantage over the public schools, which, in those lower classifications, are primarily small, county schools. But the advantages have little to do with cheating and nothing at all to do with the AHSAA’s bias against public schools.
It has much more to do with the State Legislature’s bias against public schools.
Athletics are like a window into a high school. And in this case, it’s pretty easy to look through all of those windows and see the reality – and inequity – in Alabama’s school funding structure.
That structure was established to protect large land owners from paying for the education of poor, mostly black residents in rural counties. The men who developed the system were open about their racist intentions, yet that system has barely changed in the decades since slaves were freed.
It’s why Madison Academy – the school that seems to attract the brunt of Whorton’s fury – can build brand new athletic facilities and the public schools in Madison County – one of the lowest funded systems in the state – can barely afford to chalk their baselines.
And if that inequity is present in athletics, you can be sure it’s also present in the chemistry and math classrooms, in the textbooks available, in the technology available, in the number of highly qualified teachers, in the number of students to teachers and in the overall state of the school buildings.
Because if those public school kids are struggling to compete on the athletic fields because of poor funding, it’s a safe bet that they’ll also be struggling in the job markets and in gaining access to colleges or other advanced training programs.
Instead of altering the racist system that has produced such poor results, State lawmakers have gone the opposite direction. They’ve doubled down on the inequitable funding and encouraged white flight.
That’s what private schools and charter schools are meant to do – to funnel money and involved parents away from the public schools. And they’ve been aided considerably by the unbelievably idiotic Accountability Act.
The AAA, as the Act is known, specifically diverts public school money away from the most desperate and struggling schools and pushes it to private-run schools. But it’s cruelest feature is this: the AAA provides $10,000 per pupil when a student transfers, but the average per-pupil funding for kids in Alabama’s public schools is just $5,800.
Think about that.
That’s Alabama’s lawmakers essentially admitting that our per-pupil funding should be twice as high. But instead of pushing such increases, they do things like pass a bill barring tax money from being spent on local referenda, virtually assuring that any push to increase taxes by local school districts will always fail.
There have been lifetimes of bills like that. Bills that have served to crush public education in this state, while allowing lawmakers to sit on their hill and proclaim failures of the good teachers and administrators who haven’t been able to take their legislative idiocy and turn it into educational excellence.
So, yes, there are many private schools in this State that have an unfair advantage from the front door all the way to the outfield wall, but it wasn’t the AHSAA or lax rules that gave them that advantage.
The Alabama Legislature did.