President Trump had hardly taken the oath of office in January 2017 when his advisor, Kellyanne Conway, told us on Meet The Press about “alternative facts.”  She was trying to defend press secretary Sean Spicer for disputing how many people attended the Trump inauguration.

Host Chuck Todd simply told her, “Look, alternative facts aee not facts.  They’re falsehoods.”

That incident came immediately to mind when I read the latest attempt by Senate Majority Leader Del Marsh trying to once again defend the Alabama Accountability Act.  You can see the article here.

The good senator begins with a statement we all agree with:  “I firmly believe that every child in Alabama deserves access to a quality education that prepares them for a successful career and fulfilling life.”

So does everyone elseBut Marsh ignores the fact that we have 722,212 students in Alabama public schools while the accountability act is only giving scholarships to 3,659 of them.  Somehow 3,659 out of 722,212 does not add up to EVERY CHILD.

There have now been 20 local school board to pass resolutions calling for the repeal of the accountability act.  Obviously Marsh is aware of what is going on across the state because he says, “Regrettably, several local school boards recently passed resolutions calling for an end to the Alabama Accountability Act. They claim that participating students are not making academic gains and that the program takes money away from public schools’ budgets. 

“Neither of these are true.

A recent University of Alabama report showed that students on AAA scholarships did better academically overall than low-income students in public schools and took steps toward equaling the performance of all Alabama students regardless of their demographic.”  

Actually what is not true is the Marsh statement.

Here is the conclusion of the most recent University of Alabama study comparing students on AAA scholarships to others.

The purpose of the evaluation is to assess how the scholarship program enacted through the AAA affects the academic achievement of students in the program.  Throughout the report many concerns have been voiced about the reliability and validity of the findings due to unknown factors associated with missing achievement tests and due to issues related to subsamples included in specific comparisons, such as whether a subsample of students accurately represented the larger group of scholarship students.  Within these limitations, the report made use of the available information to describe how well the scholarship recipients in the 2016-17 academic year performed.  The evaluation addressed three objectives to reach this goal:

The first objective described the achievement test results of the scholarship recipients and revealed that generally these students DID NOT PERFORM (all caps added) as well as other students in the U.S.  Other indicators, such as the NAEP assessments, are consistent with these results, finding that students in the state of Alabama do not perform as well as students elsewhere in the country.

When compared to Alabama public school students on ACT Aspire and ACT scores in Objective 2, there was no consistent pattern indicating that one group performed BETTER OR WORSE across grade levels.  Only a small percentage of students took the ACT Aspire or the ACT, which hampers the ability of this report to draw definite conclusions.

Finally, the evaluation assessed if scholarship recipients’ achievement scores improved, declined or remained the same over time.  Similar to their public-school counterparts, findings suggested that, on average, SCORES SHOWED LITTLE IMPROVEMENT OVER TIME.

Would someone please show me where this reports says AAA students “did belter academically overall?”

Just like Kellyanne Conway, Senator Marsh has “alternative facts.”

As to his second comment about AAA taking money from public schools, he doesn’t bother to defend this allegation.  But then “alternative facts” can sometimes be worrisome that way.

As Senator Marsh knows, every dollar that goes to a scholarship for a student to attend a private school is diverted from the state’s Education Trust Fund through a tax credit to a donor.  Since all income tax goes straight to the ETF, when money is switched from ETF to scholarships, that is money taken from public schools.

The state Revenue Department administers the accountability act.  They have lots of info on a web site.

Alabama Accountability Act

Senator Marsh needs to look at it sometime.  One thing he will find are reports from scholarships granting organizations that show that through the end of 2018, these groups have collected $145,003,640 from donors.  That is $145 million that did not get to ETF.  That is not an “alternative fact.”

Finally, Senator Marsh tells us: “The funding for AAA scholarships is less than half of 1 percent of the overall state education budget. I do not believe that this small amount is too much to pay so that children and their parents have the ability to choose the type of education that sets them up for future success.” 

Wow, I now know that $145 million is a “small amount” in the grand scheme of things.  And Senator Marsh is a deep-fried CONSERVATIVE?

As a former member of the Montgomery County school board, I will be happy to arrange for the senator to visit some of our schools and classrooms.  He can visit BTW magnet where students are crammed on top of each other because their school burned to the ground last year.   He can tell the students $145 million is nothing.  Or visit any of the teachers who are constantly using DonorChoose to try and scratch up supplies for their children.

For sure he will come away with real facts, not ones pulled from thin air.