When drafting this legislation, Republicans should have admitted, up front, that affluent families already have a choice. For years they have exercised it by choosing to move to where the schools are not “failing” or by sending their children to private schools that, they are assured, aren’t failing, either.
Therefore, the act could have focused on poorer families who have not to this point had the choice owned by affluent families. Gov. Robert Bentley raised this possibility when he demanded that a scholarship program for low-income students be part of the bill. (Here’s a question: How much has been contributed to the scholarship fund and is the amount given as great as that spent running ads in support of the plan?)
To give these families a choice, the Legislature could have added a “means test” to the act and by this deny tax credits to families whose income is above the state average.
Even better, the Legislature could have dropped the whole tax-credit idea and instead given direct allocations (vouchers) to families whose income is below the state average, allocations to be used to attend schools that are not “failing.”
To make this work, the Legislature would have needed to clearly define what is “failing.”
The act could have demanded private schools are held to the same standards as public schools. This might have corrected the problem of “failing” private schools trying to attract students for the state money they will bring with them.
Lastly, the Legislature could have tightened rules on the athletic eligibility of transfers to prevent schools from recruiting athletes from “failing” public schools. There should be severe penalties for those who break that rule.
We realize there are a lot of “could have’s” here. Frankly, none of the above addresses a huge concern that will likely spring out of this law — the hollowing out of “failing” public schools as bright students abandon ship, leaving behind even more challenges for administrators and teachers.
This space is under no illusion that with these changes would have made a bad bill perfect. It was conceived in secret, passed by subterfuge and is being deceitfully sold to the public as promoting “accountability.”