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Opinion | Bill would allow schools to turn away special needs students. That’s not the worst of it

“The bill, sponsored by Del Marsh, is the latest in a long line that takes from public schools and students that can least afford it.”

Somehow, State Senator Del Marsh managed to do worse. Yes, it was bad enough that Marsh brought to committee on Tuesday a bill that specifically allows public schools to deny entry to children with special needs — an abhorrent proposal and one specifically deemed illegal by federal law. And one the Republican-led committee passed in a 7-3 vote.

(Somewhat in Marsh’s defense, he said the Legislative Services Office wrote and reviewed the legal aspects of the bill, which really raises some questions about that office.)

But despite the awfulness of such a proposal, that wasn’t the worst of Marsh’s time before the committee on Tuesday morning. 

Nor was it his bill’s intent to essentially legalize segregation by another name. 

Nor was it when he pretended that allowing kids to transfer schools without providing transportation and with a hefty charge would somehow aid poor children. 

No, the worst of it was when Marsh, the biggest crutch for the Alabama Accountability Act, stood before the committee — while being questioned about his bill by Sen. Vivian Figures — and said that he was greatly troubled by Alabama’s current school funding structure and that he would love to see more money go to struggling schools. 

Insert record scratch sound effect. Followed by uproarious laughter. 

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Because honestly, it’s like Nick Saban saying he wishes something could be done about exorbitant coaches’ salaries. Or Sen. Tommy Tuberville complaining about all the clueless people in the Senate. 

And that’s because no one has done more to take funding from struggling schools over the past decade than Marsh. 

That is not hyperbole. That’s a provable fact. 

Marsh was the primary sponsor of the 2013 Alabama Accountability Act, and he has been the sponsor of numerous “improvement” bills related to the Act. If you’re unfamiliar, the AAA was illegally passed and serves as a way to divert tax dollars that would ordinarily go to public schools and instead sends them to private, for-profit schools. 

It does absolutely nothing to aid “failing schools” — most of which are located in economically depressed areas — but instead purposefully sucks money and students away from those schools and gives them to private schools. 

But wait, there’s more. 

If the AAA isn’t bad enough, Marsh also was the sponsor of the charter schools bill, which opened the door to charters in Alabama. It has been, mostly, an abysmal failure, with the charter schools sucking money away from struggling districts and performing no better (and sometimes significantly worse) in educating students. 

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The Charter School Commission has already shut down one of the five charters it has approved, and another — LEAD Academy in Montgomery — should have been closed as well. To date, there is zero evidence that any community — much less a struggling, economically depressed community — has experienced an educational renaissance, or even noticeably better educational outcomes, thanks to a charter. 

But none of those failures have stopped Marsh from going back to the well and asking for more money for both. 

He’s proposed legislation that has asked for more money for the AAA on at least two occasions. This despite the per-pupil allocation under the Act being higher for students attending private schools than it is for the students who remain enrolled in their zoned public schools.  

Marsh also has asked for more money for the charters, proposing in 2019 that some local tax dollars also follow students to the charter schools. 

With these new laws and their companion updates, legislation sponsored by Marsh has sucked tens of millions of dollars away from some of this state’s poorest, most desperate schools. They have served as salt in the wounds to our most at-risk student population. 

Because for every student of means who has managed to transfer out of a “failing school,” at least 10 other students were left behind — stuck in a school that suddenly had that much less revenue coming in the door. 

That’s not right, and everyone with a functioning brain knows it. You know it’s not OK to leave children in an underperforming school while you create an escape hatch for just some students. And while you make that poor school even worse. 

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Instead of fixing that problem, Marsh is now back proposing yet another escape hatch. And of course, he’s also proposing a means to keep more vulnerable students — learning disabled kids this time — from clogging up the hatch. 

All of that is bad, of course. But it pales in comparison to the fact that it’s being proposed even while Marsh — and many, many others — knows where the real problem lies.

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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