Mary Sell does an excellent job of covering the Montgomery political scene for newspapers in Florence and Decatur. She is diligent in doing her research and seeking out sources. And she does a fine job of staying on top of education issues that impact her coverage area in north Alabama.
For instance, here is her latest piece about the Alabama Accountability Act and the fact that a number of private schools in north Alabama have received scholarships for students, even though their are no “failing schools” in many of these locations. As we know by now, while the original intent of the 2013 AAA was supposedly to “help kids stuck in failing schools by their zip codes,” the reality of how the use of the law has unfolded is much different.
One sentence in Mary’s story jumped off the page at me.
“We don’t take students with discipline problems and that kind of thing,” he said.
“He” is Stephen Murr, head of Lindsay Lane Christian Academy in Athens, AL. I don’t know what he meant by “that kind of thing” but I do know what he meant by “discipline problems.”
Money to provide scholarships for students at Lindsay Lane Christian Academy–and the other 140 private schools getting them–comes from donations made to a scholarship granting organization. These donations are treated as a dollar for dollar tax break on state income taxes. Had this money not gone to an SGO, it would have gone to the Education Trust Fund to be used for public schools.
Unlike private schools, public schools are not able to turn away students “with discipline problems and that kind of thing.” They are open to one and all. Three years ago I spent time at Morris Slingluff Elementary in Dothan. They had 16 students who had to be fed with a feeding tube. Not long ago I asked a friend who is on staff at a large private school in Montgomery how many special education teachers they have. “None,” she said, “because we don’t have any special ed students.”
We have now diverted $54 million from the Education Trust Fund for accountability act scholarships. This is money that potentially might have gone to public schools to assist special needs students. Instead, we are using it to send to schools where the doors are only open to students they deem worthy to be in their student body.
I have a hard time understanding the morality of such.