From the beginning of the legislative session that ended May 19, Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh put a priority on amending the current Alabama Accountability Act to open up access to more donors. But when he only got his bill out of the Senate on a 17-15 vote one sensed it faced an uphill battle.
And did it ever.
It finally got to the floor of the House on the last day of the session and not only lost–but got taken out behind the woodshed and giving a thrashing by a vote of 59 nays and 28 ayes. In fact, more Republican house members (29) votes against the bill than voted for it. And this in spite of the fact that a couple of weeks ago several legislators told me that Marsh staff members told them in no uncertain terms that a no vote in the House would spell trouble for any local legislation they had in the Senate.
While proponents of the accountability act, which allows Alabama tax credits for donations used for private school vouchers, continue to promote it as a way to help students in poor schools, the facts simply do not support this contention.
At this point, $86 million has been diverted from the Education Trust Fund for vouchers, yet at the end of the first quarter of this year, only.3,897 students were on an AAA scholarship and of these, only 1,302 were “zoned” to attend a failing school. (Which means they could have been attending a private school before they got a scholarship.) And what is most often lost in these discussions is that we have 730,000 students in Alabama public schools.
(I have written extensively about AAA on this blog. Go to the menu on the rightand click “Accountability Act” to see them.)
Obviously legislators are beginning to consider research study after study showing that vouchers do not work. Plus, they are also listening more and more to local educators than lobbyists.
Of course, Senator Marsh vowed from the get-go that his amendment was all about helping kids get more school choice. But when you read the bill and see it allows donors to claim 75 percent of their donation, instead of 50 percent, as a tax credit you have to wonder. You especially question that the amendment allowed deductions for companies with at least $100,000 in annual utility gross receipts tax. Sources tell me this would mean a business would have to spend about $400,000 a month on utilities and that there are no more than 25 in the state in this category.
So was this about tax breaks or helping students?
And if Senator Marsh is guided by his concern for children, why did he let a $41 million supplemental appropriation for the Advancement & Technology Fund die without bringing it up for a vote on the final night of the session. This legislation had already jumped through all the necessary hoops and only had to be passed by the Senate to go to the governor to be signed.
Or was he simply playing an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”? In other words, my bill did not pass, so one that helps public schools with funding will not either.
When you couple what happened to Marsh to what happened earlier in the session to a charter school bill sponsored by Rep. Terri Collins, you realize the wind is shifting direction in the Statehouse. Since the Republican supermajority came to power in 2011, Marsh and Collins have led the assault on public education.
Let us pray that a certain amount of sanity is returning to the legislature when it comes to dealing with education. Let us hope more and more Representatives and Senators understand that the real experts about what is needed to best educate our children are experienced teachers and principals. Not lobbyists with no understanding of education touting some notion sent to them by a think tank or a group with a specific agenda that deals more with money than the welfare of children.