Op-ed: Alabama Accountability Act is historic legislation
by Ginger Marsh, Special to The Star
Jul 09, 2013 | 2497 views |  0 comments | 43 43 recommendations | email to a friend | print
On Feb. 28, the Alabama Accountability Act was passed by our state Legislature. As a former elementary school teacher and current adjunct professor of education at Jacksonville State University, this bill, in my opinion, is the most historic piece of education legislation ever passed in the state.

It provides students and parents with the opportunity to attend a higher performing school within or outside their school district if they attend a school identified as failing by the Alabama State Department of Education.

This column is intended to clarify many of the misrepresentations of this law that have been publicized by those who staunchly oppose it.

Many have been led to believe that this bill creates a voucher program. That is not true. It creates a tax-credit program. The difference is that under a tax-credit program, a parent must use his or her own money to pay for private school tuition; they can then apply for a fully-refundable credit toward their state income tax. In this case, state tax dollars go directly to the parent, not to a private or parochial school.

On the other hand, a voucher is a certificate issued by the state that parents may apply toward tuition at a private school, and in that case, state funding goes directly to the private school.

Under recently issued guidelines on the law, students who are currently enrolled in a private school are not eligible for the tax credit

What about low-income families that cannot afford to pay tuition up front? Low-income families may qualify for scholarships based on family income. Under the scholarship component of the law, individuals and businesses donate money to fund scholarships for families at or below poverty level through a state-approved scholarship-granting organization. Those who donate to these organizations will then be eligible for a tax credit. Those who qualify will be able to apply directly to the scholarship-granting organization.

The state Department of Revenue can provide more information on scholarship-granting organizations in Alabama.

What if a student wants to transfer to another public school? Students in schools identified as failing are also able to transfer to another public school, but they must first seek to transfer within their district. The parent must also provide transportation to the school if it is outside their district.

Are public schools required or forced to take these students? No. However, it is my opinion that schools should serve any student wanting to attend a school that they believe can offer them a better education. After all, it is the job of schools to educate children, regardless of their ZIP code or socioeconomic status, and they should do so to the best of their ability.

What will it cost the state? Lawmakers set aside $40 million in the education budget to cover the costs, which is less than 1 percent of the budget’s $5.6 billion total appropriation. But for the child who is no longer trapped in a failing school and is able to receive a quality education, the cost, which will be minimal, will be money well-spent.

If you were to assume that a child in a failing school is more likely to drop out, then we know it would be more costly to the state than to provide these preventative resources on the front end. High school dropouts are statistically more likely to end up unemployed and apply for public assistance. A staggering 60 percent or more of our state’s prison population are dropouts.

Everyone has heard negative comments about this bill since its passage. However, there is a completely different view, a positive one. Many people seem to think that identifying a school as a failing school is a horrible thing. Yet, it could be seen as a challenge with only one way to go … up.

Now that these schools have been identified, they can initiate a plan of action to improve their performance. The flexibility of scheduling and course work that is now offered in this law is a plus for all schools to use for improvement and achievement. And for the first time ever, parents of children trapped in failing schools have options when it comes to making sure their child receives a quality education.

Ginger Marsh is a former public school teacher and the wife of Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston.

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Op-ed: Alabama Accountability Act is historic legislation by Ginger Marsh, Special to The Star

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