After my post asking whether anyone had asked parents and families how they feel about the Alabama Accountability Act, I received some help in locating a couple of polls and surveys conducted about how folks in Alabama feel about school choice.
Types of School Choice
Folks tend to couch the discussion of the Act around “school choice”, so first let’s be clear about definitions. School choice is the option to choose a school other than the one to which you are geographically zoned to attend. Plain and simple.
Magnets and charters, even the choice of another public school within the same district typically costs a family nothing: No tuition is expected to be paid by the student’s family. Alabama has 39 magnet schools in 12 districts. Alabama has no charter schools. The Alabama School of Fine Arts and the Alabama School of Mathematics and Science are often incorrectly referred to as charter schools, but were actually created by legislation and are open to those who meet entry requirements.
Private school typically has costs involved, even when scholarships or financial aid is awarded. According to 2009-2010 federal education data, Alabama had 390 private schools with 73,449 students that school year.
Homeschooling is another choice that typically costs students’ families money because of the need to purchase curricular materials and textbooks. Data from 2007 indicates that 2.9 percent of students across the country are homeschooled. No reliable number for Alabama has been located.
[NOTE: Public school is increasingly becoming a not-so-free pursuit, with families often paying hundreds of dollars in fees at registration time each year. More on that later this summer.]
There is a new form of school choice being created through “parent trigger” laws. That discussion is for another day, though. We don’t have “parent trigger” laws in Alabama.
Recent Polls and Surveys
I could only locate four scientific polls and surveys about how Alabamians feel about the Act and/or about school choice overall.
The Alabama Republican Caucus commissioned a poll by McLaughlin & Associates just after the passage of the Act. From the al.com article reporting on the results:
“The survey, conducted March 5 and 6 with 600 likely voters found that 56 percent of them support the Alabama Accountability Act. Some 34 percent oppose the plan. The survey has a margin of error plus or minus 4 percent.”
The Alabama Education Association (AEA) conducts surveys through the Capital Research Survey Center. Here’s a link to their published surveys.
The AEA’s 2011 survey on the state of Alabama’s public schools asked the following questions about school choice. “PSH*” indicates the responses of just those who currently had children in public schools:
To fix the problems of public education do you support providing alternatives to public schools such as vouchers, private schools, or school choice, or do you support fixing public schools?
|Provide public school options||29%||24%|
|Fix public schools||65%||71%|
One proposal to fix public schools is to have Charter schools. Charter schools are public schools funded by public dollars under a charter that gives them more independence in how the school operates. Do you favor or oppose charter schools?
A few months later, the AEA conducted this 2012 survey on charter schools. Legislation creating charter schools was introduced in the 2012 legislative session. This survey apparently was used to both inform and question respondents. From the survey of Alabamians:
[one_half] Based on current knowledge of charter schools:
Don’t Know Enough 49%[/one_half]
[one_half_last]After given a brief pro and con description of charter schools:
Don’t Know 17%[/one_half_last]
The Foundation for Educational Choice conducted a survey of six states in 2010, including Alabama. Click to view the entire survey, but I want to show just our state’s thoughts about school choice.
And that sums up all of the scientific polls and surveys that I can locate about how Alabamians feel about school choice.
Al.com has run a few unscientific polls that ask for opinions about specific parts of the law. Only one, published the day after the Act was originally passed on February 28, asked if Alabamians thought the law was a good one. Emotions were running high over the way in which the bill was passed and the results were not a surprise (at least not for me).
What About the Folks Who Have Something to Gain?
What I also find surprising—no, maybe confounding would be the better word—is that I only located four parent interviews about the Act, and all of them said they believed it was a good thing for the families of Alabama. Yet all I read are opinions of education department officials, newspaper editors and guest columnists, school officials, school organization officials, and professional teacher union representatives denouncing the tax credit portion of the bill. The overwhelming message that is conveyed by these groups is that the tax credit portion of the Act should be repealed.
Why the disconnect? Why do the few parents who have managed to be heard through newspapers and television say the Act is a good thing, and the education officials say it’s not? What is going on here?
Of all of the information I found about the Act, the only folks who have actually reached out to Alabamians who may be eligible for the tax credit portion of the bill are StudentsFirst Alabama. They published a series of videos of citizens thanking legislators for passing HB84, which we have come to know as the Alabama Accountability Act. I credit their state director for pointing me to these videos. Take a moment and watch a few.
Before you decide that I’m pro-school-choice, you should know that what I am MOST pro about is engaging the local community in their local neighborhood schools. Ask the parents and families what they want from their schools. Ask the ordinary folks who send their children to school everyday in the hopes that their child will receive a great education. We must have those conversations in every school, in every district. Conversations between teachers and parents and families and students.
And now, when we need to hear from Alabama’s families to know how they feel about this opportunity, their voices are nowhere to be found, except in those four interviews and the videos shared by StudentsFirst Alabama.
What is going on here?