By Victor Skinner
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Alabama Democrats are up in arms after their Republican colleagues in the state legislature expanded a “school flexibility” bill to include vouchers for students in failing schools to attend a better public or nonpublic school.
“For two or three years, we’ve pushed flexibility, we’ve pushed this type of reform, and I am so proud we’ve done this for the children of this state,” Gov. Robert Bentley said at a press conference, according to the Montgomery Advertiser.
The original legislation would have allowed school districts to apply for waivers from laws regarding teacher certification and other employment laws so school officials could better manage their staffs.
But Republican lawmakers revised and expanded the bill in a conference committee shortly before its passage to include tax credits for families with children in failing schools to find better educational options, the newspaper reports.
Republicans championed the bill as “a rescue plan for those who need rescuing the most,” but Democrats – traditional allies with the state’s teachers union– loudly protested the bill.
Leaders in the state’s education establishment, including state Superintendent Tommy Bice, seemed more concerned about the possibility of public schools losing revenue to private schools than how the tax credits could help students.
“There are significant negative financial implications for all of Alabama’s public schools,” Bice said, according to the Advertiser.
The bill, which the governor is expected to sign next week, was revised to include a provision to allow parents of students in a failing government school to apply for a tax credit to cover 80 percent of their tuition at a “non-failing public school or nonpublic school, whichever is less,” the Advertiser reports.
“The bill defines a failing schools as a public K-12 school labeled ‘persistently low-performing’ in the U.S. Department of Education School Improvement Grant application; one that ranks in the lowest 10 percent on state standardized assessments in reading and math; has received a grade of F or three consecutive grades of D; or has been designated a failing school by the State Superintendent of Education,” the newspaper reports.
The tax credits will undoubtedly give thousands of students access to a much better education than they would have received at their failing public school.
That should be the bottom line. But those in the education establishment are more worried about government schools losing money, and some union teachers losing their jobs if the demand for educators in government schools dries up a bit.
We suspect that public schools that continuously strive to serve students and taxpayers in their communities will have very few students leave, while schools that ignore parents and lackluster student performance could witness a mass exodus.
That’s the power parents can wield when they’re given choices about their children’s education. That power ultimately will benefit all students by forcing failing public schools to drastically improve or face the consequences.
“If they start losing students, they’re going to change what they’re doing now,” state Rep. Chad Fincher, the bill’s sponsor, told the Advertiser.