More than 600 people have responded so far to a recent online survey about the Alabama Accountability Act. They are loud and clear as to how they feel. Seventy-six percent say it should be repealed. Another 17 percent say it should be modified and only one percent say it should be left as is.
This is not surprising since 78 percent of respondents are either currently working in public education, or are retired educators. They also have a vested interested as 58 percent either have children or grandchildren now in a public school.
More than 51 percent are in the age range of 46 to 65. Sixty-eight percent of all respondents are female. And 46 percent identify themselves as Republicans, 32 percent are Independents and 23 percent are Democrats.
Editor’s note: SurveyMonkey was the instrument used to get responses. This methodology is used by more than 4,000 companies worldwide In market research. Unlike traditional political polling, SurveyMonkey does not control responses according to demographics. However, the number of responses is so large that info is very valid in measuring attitudes and trend lines.
The survey probed a number of issues regarding AAA.
For instance, while those supporting the accountability act imply that public schools should not miss the $100 million now diverted from the Education Trust Fund by this legislation, 95.5 percent of survey takers do not believe Alabama schools are adequately funded.
Only four percent say they know someone who has contributed to a Scholarship Granting Organization (SGO) and seven percent say they know a student who has received a scholarship with this program.
This law creates a double standard for charitable contributions. While the state allows an income tax DEDUCTION for traditional contributions based on the contributor’s income tax bracket; donors to an SGO get a dollar for dollar TAX CREDIT on their taxes. Say you are in the 35 percent tax bracket and give $1,000 to the Boy Scouts, you get a $350 (35 percent X $1,000) tax deduction. However, if you give $1,000 to a SGO, the state allows you to take this amount off your tax liability owed the state. In other words, you are reimbursed $1,000.
Some 56 percent of those who answered the survey say both regular charitable contributions and SGO contributions should be treated equally.
There is concern these scholarships are sometimes used to recruit athletes to private schools and 77 percent think a school getting AAA scholarships should not be allowed to compete in athletics with public schools.
They also have strong feelings about scholarships being given to non-accredited private schools as is presently allowed. Eighty-three percent oppose this.
The survey shows intense feelings about the State Board of Education and their unwillingness to take a stand on AAA. Some 88 percent say the board should take a public position on AAA and 90 percent say the board should be actively involved in making legislative changes to the law.
While this law requires that the state identify the bottom six percent of all public schools and label them as “failing,” 78 percent say the same bottom six percent standard should be applied to private schools.
AAA does not stipulate that any resources or help be given to “failing” schools to help them improve. Eighty-three percent of responses say this is wrong.
So far, school boards in Baldwin, Mobile, Montgomery, Randolph and Tallapoosa counties have passed resolutions calling for the repeal of AAA. Some 87 percent agree with school boards taking such action.
Respondents were asked how they feel about the overall state of public education in Alabama. Unfortunately, 45 percent believe it will be worse in the future than it now is
Might it be that after six years of the accountability act and little to show for it, plus the fact that the state school board is apparently content to give up $100 million in funding without saying a word, there is ample reason for pessimism?
I don’t know that answer. But I do know the folks who took this survey have spoken loudly that they do not believe the accountably act works and are calling for action.
Larry Lee is a public-school advocate and co-author of the study, Lessons Learned From Rural Schools. He is a former member of the Montgomery County school board. [email protected]