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Opinion | Only one kind of “school choice” matters

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Get ready to party, kids. 

Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday issued a proclamation that Jan. 26-Feb. 1, would officially be known as “school choice week” in Alabama. The week will feature dozens of events and parties and just a grand ol’ good time, as we all come together and celebrate the decision to allow Alabama’s school children the choice to attend any school they wish. 

That’s right, no more suburban, white-flight schools. No more selective busing. No more tricky zoning laws. No more shifting district lines. No more “neighborhood schools.” 

The poor kids finally will be able to attend the rich kids’ schools. 

Won’t it be grand — to watch the under-educated, impoverished children who attend perpetually under-funded and under-staffed and under-supplied schools in Jefferson County march into Mountain Brook and Vestavia Hills and Hoover and all the other just-out-of-reach school systems with massive resources? 

Imagine the looks on the kids’ faces when they realize they’ve gone from a school in Montgomery that couldn’t afford textbooks for all of the students to a school in Pike Road where everyone gets an iPad. 

Imagine the excitement among parents in Huntsville, as their children have an opportunity to leave a system plagued by mismanagement and racism and instead receive an education at one of the best school districts in America a few miles away in Madison City. 

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I know people have been up in arms about this whole school choice thing, but I, for one, think it’s great. And exactly what this state has needed for a long, long time. 

Just the other night, I was reading through a Twitter thread from an al.com reporter about the poverty and inequality issues that are so prevalent within Alabama’s public education system. Did you know that Alabama is one of just six states that doesn’t disperse funding based, at least in part, on the economic status of the student body of a school system? 

Forty-four states out there took a look at the data that showed poverty was THE key indicator in academic successes of students, schools and entire systems and decided that they should allocate more funding to schools with higher percentages of impoverished students. You know, to help level the playing field a little bit. 

Not Alabama, though. 

Nah, our leaders took a look at the struggling schools in high poverty areas and said, “Let’s get the white kids out.”

That’s how we ended up with the Alabama Accountability Act, which allows kids in “failing schools” to transfer out to any non-failing school. But no transportation is provided to that transferring student, because, why can’t those poor kids’ parents drop them off at their new school on the way to pilates like the rich kids’ parents do? 

But this nixes that awful, racist program. And more good news: It will also keep cities like Gardendale from trying to form racist breakaway school systems in an attempt to re-segregate, and then being forced to pay nearly a million dollars in attorneys’ fees. 

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Now, instead of just blaming bad schools on the black kids or the Mexican kids or the white trash kids, parents and schools systems will have to work together to create options and alternatives to aid the children who are struggling to learn, regardless of their race or income level. And some of those parents might just learn that they share a common dream for their children, and that while their situations and lives might be vastly different, the hope they have for their children is identical. 

So, this new “school choice” proclamation from the governor is just fantastic, and exactly what we needed to inject a level of equality and fairness into our school systems that has been sorely missing for 200 years. 

I look forward to celebrating this week-long event. Let me read through this announcement and get you a bit more information so you too can celebrate this grand week for Alabama school children. 

Hmmm. You know, the more I read through this, the more I’m getting the impression that “school choice week” isn’t at all what I thought it was. And looking back at rallies and comments made at previous “school choice” events in Alabama, why, I think this whole thing might just be a thinly veiled attempt to push charter schools and the belief that the success or failure of educating all children is determined by “competition.” 

In reality, educational success is determined by resources. Which is why the folks who can afford it dump 30 times as much money into their school systems as the poorest districts that lack the resources. And that’s why the wealthiest districts enjoy schools with the latest technology, plenty of teachers and textbooks and all of the tools that help kids grow and learn. And the poorest schools literally can’t provide enough textbooks. 

The only school choice that will ever matter in Alabama is choosing to drastically shrink the resource gap between the rich and poor schools.

 

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Written By

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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