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Opinion | Education matters

President Trump had hardly taken the oath of office in January 2017 when his advisor, Kellyanne Conway, told Meet the Press about “alternative facts.” She was trying to defend press secretary Sean Spicer for disputing how many people attended the Trump inauguration.

Host Chuck Todd simply told her, “Look, alternative facts are not facts. They’re falsehoods.”

That incident came immediately to mind when I read the latest attempt in the Montgomery Advertiser by Senate Majority Leader Del Marsh trying to defend the Alabama Accountability Act. The good senator begins with a statement we all agree with: “I firmly believe that every child in Alabama deserves access to a quality education that prepares them for a successful career and fulfilling life.”

So does everyone else. But Marsh ignores the fact that we have 722,212 students in Alabama public schools while the accountability act is only giving scholarships to 3,659 of them. Somehow 3,659 out of 722,212 does not add up to EVERY CHILD.

Twenty local school boards have passed resolutions calling for the repeal of the accountability act. Obviously, Marsh is aware of them because he says, “Regrettably, several local school boards recently passed resolutions calling for an end to the Alabama Accountability Act. They claim that participating students are not making academic gains and that the program takes money away from public schools’ budgets.

“Neither of these are true.

A recent University of Alabama report showed that students on AAA scholarships did better academically overall than low-income students in public schools and took steps toward equaling the performance of all Alabama students regardless of their demographic.”

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Actually, what is not true is the Marsh statement.

The most recent University of Alabama study comparing students on AAA scholarships to others states:

The purpose of the evaluation is to assess how the scholarship program enacted through the AAA affects the academic achievement of students in the program.

The first objective described the achievement test results of the scholarship recipients and revealed that generally these students DID NOT PERFORM (all caps added) as well as other students in the U.S.

When compared to Alabama public school students on ACT Aspire and ACT scores in Objective 2, there was no consistent pattern indicating that one group performed BETTER OR WORSE across grade levels

Finally, the evaluation assessed if scholarship recipients’ achievement scores improved, declined or remained the same over time. Similar to their public-school counterparts, findings suggested that, on average, SCORES SHOWED LITTLE IMPROVEMENT OVER TIME.

Senator Marsh’s statement that this report says AAA students “did belter academically overall” is not true.

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As to his second comment about AAA taking money from public schools, Senator Marsh knows, every dollar that goes to a scholarship for a student to attend a private school is diverted from the state’s Education Trust Fund through a tax credit to a donor. Since all income tax goes straight to the ETF, when money is switched from ETF to scholarships, that is money taken from public schools.

Senator Marsh needs to look at data on the Revenue Department web site sometime. He will find are reports from scholarships granting organizations that show that through the end of 2018, these groups collected $145,003,640 from donors. That is $145 million that did not get to ETF. That is not an “alternative fact.”

Finally, Senator Marsh tells us: “The funding for AAA scholarships is less than half of 1 percent of the overall state education budget. I do not believe that this small amount is too much to pay so that children and their parents have the ability to choose the type of education that sets them up for future success.”

Wow, I now know that $145 million is a “small amount” in the grand scheme of things. And Senator Marsh is a deep-fried CONSERVATIVE?

As a former member of the Montgomery County school board, I will be happy to arrange for the senator to visit some schools and classrooms. He can visit BTW magnet where students are crammed on top of each other because their school burned to the ground last year. He can tell the students $145 million is nothing.

For sure he will come away with real facts, not ones pulled from thin air.

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

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