The debate over the number of children utilizing scholarships available through the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA) has raised that question.
And it’s a good question.
Alabama’s largest scholarship granting organization (SGO), the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund, stated that nearly 1,400 students zoned to “failing” schools were awarded scholarships for the 2014-2015 school year.
Some folks challenge that number, saying that schools labeled as “failing” aren’t missing that many children.
But finding the children—digging down into the data—is difficult, if not nearly impossible.
Because getting to the real numbers would require real numbers being made available.
The real numbers to which I am referring are the real numbers where the children who are of mandatory school age in Alabama are enrolled in school.
There are a few sets of numbers available, but none appear to be complete.
The Alabama State Department of Education produces enrollment reports each year, showing the gender and race of students enrolled in each and every school district in Alabama.
No matter what your source, the number of students enrolled in private school is entirely unreliable.
And don’t even ask about how many children are being homeschooled. No one (and I mean NO ONE) tracks that number.
This has been a problem long before the AAA came into the picture.
Local Superintendents Are Supposed to Know Those Numbers
While the SGOs are getting beaten over the head, being asked about where their scholarship recipients attended school, no one is asking the local superintendents.
And those local superintendents are the ones that are required to track those numbers.
In §16-28-7 of the Code of Alabama, reporting requirements are crystal clear: The principal of each public school in which a student should be enrolled is supposed to either seek out or receive reports, depending upon whether the student is in a private school, enrolled in a church school or being taught by a private tutor, of how many students (along with their names and addresses) are of compulsory attendance age and where those students are going to school. [Pssst: attendance is supposed to be reported, too.]
The principal is then required to report that information to the local superintendent.
Local superintendents are ultimately supposed to develop lists of children of mandatory school age residing in their school district are living and enrolled in school, and then share those reports with the State Superintendent of Education.
So, if you have a question about where the children in your school district that are of compulsory attendance age (age six to 17) are attending school, ask your local superintendent.
The local superintendent is required by law to know.
[For the record, this appears to be another one of those laws that no one bothers to enforce. Sigh. Why bother to make the law if no one will enforce it?]
A Few Numbers Demonstrating the Need to Know
According to 2010 Census data, there were 827,502 children aged five to 17 living in Alabama. According to the Alabama State Department of Education’s enrollment reports for the 2010-2011 school year 741,043 of them were enrolled in public school.
That leaves 86,459 of them unaccounted for. That’s 11.7% of all school-aged children.
Estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2009-2013 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates (the lowest margin of error) show that in 2013, there were 821,442 children aged 5 to 17.
The number of students enrolled in Alabama’s public schools during the 2013-2014 school year was 736,789, leaving 84,653 children unaccounted for.
That’s 11.5% of the total.
Where are they?
Shouldn’t we care enough to find out?
Sources and Resources
American Fact Finder – Census Bureau data
How I Determined the “Age 5 to 17 Years” Figure – I looked at the American Community Survey “Sex and Age” figures for Alabama. I specifically looked for the 2010 full Census Bureau data for the 2010 figures (named the “2010 Census Congressional District Summary File (113th Congress)”). For the 2013 figures, I used the 2009-2013 ACS 5-year estimates because those figures have the lowest margin of error. For each report, I located three specific rows of information: Total population, population 18 years and over, and population under 5 years. Then I did the following math: Total Population minus Population 18 years and over minus Population under 5 years. The result gave me the number of children 5 years old up to and including 17 years old.