Gov. Robert Bentley’s decision to sign a school tax-credit and voucher law Thursday was less surprising than the votes the bill received from local legislators.
Lawmakers rushed the bill through a conference committee, carefully concealing it from any of the educators with the expertise to evaluate its impact.
The law will drain funding from other schools to finance a scheme that benefits educational corporations and families — regardless of income — whose children already are enrolled in private schools. What the law will not do, if the experience of states with similar laws is any indication, is improve the educational outcomes of students in struggling schools.
In voting for the law and in failing to obtain input from local school officials, area legislators demonstrated a disturbing lack of support for schools in their districts.
The law permits students from “failing” schools — as determined by standardized test scores — to transfer to private schools. Taxpayers will subsidize the private schools at a cost of about $3,500 per student. Taxpayers also will finance a $25 million scholarship fund that private schools can tap to cover their tuition costs.
The tax dollars that go to the private schools will come straight from the Education Trust Fund, which has seen a 22-percent drop in inflation-adjusted state funding since 2008. Only Arizona has seen a greater reduction in K-12 funding.
Even as state funding has dropped, Decatur City Schools and other area school systems have embarked on major reforms. Hartselle just built a new high school. Priceville is building one. Athens and Decatur are considering similar investments.
Most area school districts have aggressive boards and committed teachers backed by supportive communities. There are problem school districts in the state, but they are not here.
The Accountability Act will drain between $59 million and $367 million from the already strained Education Trust Fund. Even proponents estimate the cost at more than $100 million. Because local school districts do an excellent job, not many of their students will enjoy any benefit from the law.
All public-school students in the area, however, will suffer. By reducing the Education Trust Fund budget, the law will reduce available dollars for local K-12 schools, for Calhoun Community College and for Athens State University.
Every legislator from this area voted for the law. None of them consulted local school officials. By voting for it, they supported a transfer of funds from good public schools here to private schools and educational corporations in other parts of the state.
If legislators’ political calculation was that area residents are not proud of local schools, they may be surprised. Many in Decatur and surrounding communities voted for them in the expectation they would support public education. Instead, the legislators backed a law that undermines local schools.
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