I have chosen not to write about the Alabama Accountability Act until the dust settled and the fog began to lift. Well, the sky is beginning to clear with one day left in the legislative session. And I have begun to wonder if anybody ever bothered to ask the parents and families for whom choice might be made available what they think about the Act. It surely doesn’t appear so.
Governor Bentley has added an executive amendment seeking a two-year delay in implementing the tax credit portion of the Alabama Accountability Act to the recent amendment passed to allow school systems to deny entrance to students “fleeing” failing schools outside of their system. A showdown is set for May 20, the last day of the legislative session. Will the Republican supermajority accept the amendment? That’s the question on the media forefront, but is that the question we really need to be asking?
In all the hoopla and rhetoric surrounding the Act, it is astounding to me that not one single media source has attempted to interview or otherwise gather the opinion of any parents or families of children who currently attend “failing” schools and may end up being eligible to leave their public school for a private school using tax credits and/or scholarships. Yes, there have been multiple “lists” floating around, but the school leaders that have schools on those lists have been interviewed, so why not the parents and families? Does anybody care what parents and families think?
I have spent days reading hundreds of articles and op-eds about the Act since it was sneaked into the original Local Control School Flexibility Act on February 28. Granted, I may have missed some articles or television reports, but I found that exactly
three four parents have been interviewed, and it was unclear whether their families were eligible for the tax credit. One PTA leader was interviewed and he supported the bill. Two parents in Mobile said they were excited to have the choice. A parent in Huntsville said the bill was a good thing for parents who wanted out of “failing” schools. I also found a couple of attempts at unscientific online polls to gather public opinion on tangential issues.
We have been treated to pages and pages of commentary and press releases from bureaucrats and organization leaders who stand to lose both money and control if the tax credit portion is enacted. We have read numerous editorials from media columnists. But not a peep from the families who are trapped in a public school that struggles to succeed and who just might have something to gain.
This Act gave Alabama its first tiny taste of publicly-funded school choice. Tax credit, pseudo-voucher, whatever you want to call it, it opens the door to school choice. According to Republican leaders, the tax credit and scholarship portions of the bill were added to give families a way to choose a better educational option for their children.
Some families already have access to school choice if they have the means to attend a private school or have the capacity to homeschool. Somewhere between 10% and 13% of students currently are schooled outside of Alabama’s public school. Some families may even be fortunate enough to live in proximity to one of the 39 magnet schools in Alabama’s 134 school systems. These families already have exercised their right to choose.
I wrote about the options for children to transfer from schools that failed the federal government’s No Child Left Behind measures to schools that didn’t and how very few of those students chose to transfer. In fact, of the 42,887 students eligible for the 2010-2011 school year, only 1.6% or 682 students actually transferred. And that was with transportation provided by the district.
Alabama’s parents and families chose to stay in their “failing” neighborhood school rather than transfer to a school not designated as “failing”. What does that tell us? What does that say about how Alabama’s families feel about their neighborhood schools?
If the legislature’s job is to represent the desires of the people back home in their districts, have they even asked those folks what they want? Not the school boards and superintendents and principals and educators, but the ordinary parents and families?
Do Alabama’s families want the ability to transfer only after their school has been designated as “failing”? Or do they just want the ability to choose? Or do they just want their neighborhood public school to do a better job of educating their children?
Those questions beg to be answered, yet no one is asking. We have a few more days before the legislature meets to decide the fate of the recent amendment to the Act.
Somebody please take the time to ask Alabama’s families what they want.