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An answer to API

Education Matters
Larry Lee

According to its website, The Alabama Policy Institute “is a non-profit, non-partisan research and education organization dedicated to influencing public policy…We do this by providing fact-based, objective analysis of key issues.”

However, when you dissect the following op-ed written by Taylor Dawson about the recent defeat of an amendment to the Alabama Accountability Act, it is hard to figure out where the facts are:

“Parents with children trapped in failing schools did not have a real school-choice option in Alabama prior to 2013. With the passage of the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA), families zoned for Alabama’s worst-performing schools finally had better opportunities through scholarships and tax credits.”

Really?  The writer should look at the Alabama Department of Revenue website that shows in the first quarter of 2017 only three scholarship granting organizations were active.  There are 3,897 students on AAA vouchers.  But only 1,302 (33.4 percent) “zoned” to attend a “failing” school.  And this is mis-leading since it does not show how many students were ACTUALLY attending a “failing school.”

As to “better opportunities,” API should point out that of the 201 private schools now participating in the AAA, 80 of them (39.8 percent) are not accredited.

“After a drop of $5.9 million in scholarship donations through the AAA last year, some lawmakers came to this year’s session prepared to remedy the funding problem. Amendments would have improved the law by raising the limit on tax credits that could be claimed for donating to student scholarships, adding a tax credit for utility tax, allowing estates and trusts to donate, and reserving half of the cumulative cap–which would remain unchanged–on donations for individual donors.”

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AAA has never reached its cap in any year.  Could it be the general public realizes this is not the panacea some politicians claimed it was and have grown reluctant to contribute?  Since 90 percent of all students in Alabama attend public schools, maybe some folks have decided we should put our money where it can help the most students.  There are 730,000 in public schools and only 3,897 on vouchers.

And nowhere does API mention that we have now diverted $86 million from the education trust fund to provide vouchers.  Nor do they mention that the scholarship granting organizations can keep five percent of all donations.  That’s $4.3 million through the end of 2016.

“In February, these amendments passed by a close margin in the Senate. It wasn’t until the last forty-eight hours of the legislative session that SB 123 hit the floor of the House.”

Senator Marsh’s amendment only passed the Senate by a 17-15 margin as seven Republicans voted against it.  Many of these “no” vote Republicans are senators who have grown weary of asking questions about the effectiveness of AAA and not getting answers.

Getting the bill to the House floor wasn’t an easy task, but education reforms rarely are. Enough Legislators were swayed by the voices of public-education superintendents and the Alabama Education Association (AEA) to kill the bill.

This bill was not just killed, it was stomped flat and left to die.  While only 28 Republicans voted for it, 29 Republicans voted against it.  The final tally was 59-28.  And why would a Legislator not be swayed by their local school superintendents?  After all, who knows better, the Alabama Policy Institute or a local educator, where money should be spent?

This op-ed does not mention what happened after Senator Marsh bill’s died on the last day.  At that point there was a $41 million supplemental appropriation for education waiting for Senate action.  But Senator Marsh killed it.  Apparently he decided that if the Legislature was not going to provide additional tax breaks for big business, then he wasn’t going to provide additional monies for school kids.

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Larry Lee is a public school advocate and co-author of the study, Lessons Learned From Rural Schools. [email protected]


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