Earlier this year, the Alabama Legislature approved, and I signed, a bill that gives public schools a new method for improving education. That method is flexibility. Public schools asked for this flexibility, and it is something they deserve.
Flexibility is the most important part of the Alabama Accountability Act, and that’s why I signed the bill. In the past, schools were limited by regulations that often took a one-size-fits-all approach to education.
But with the Accountability Act, local schools are empowered to customize education to meet the needs of their students. Educators can come up with plans for improvement and put those plans into place, which gives them the opportunity to improve the quality of education for their students.
In addition to the flexibility provisions, the Accountability Act provides for tax credits and scholarships to be applied if a child assigned to a failing public school transfers to a non-failing public school or a private school. This provision is expected to cost the state an estimated $40 million to $65 million per year.
I want to help children who are stuck in failing schools receive a better education. I also want to help public schools improve. And I want us to be fiscally responsible. We can accomplish all of these goals.
On Monday, when the Legislature convenes for the final day of the 2013 legislative session, I will ask lawmakers to pass an executive amendment to House Bill 658, an updated form of the Accountability Act.
The executive amendment calls for a two-year delay on the tax credit and scholarship portions of the Accountability Act. There are two major benefits to this executive amendment.
First, the two-year delay provides greater fiscal responsibility. The Education Trust Fund owes the Education Rainy Day Account $423 million by the end of fiscal 2015. The state is constitutionally required to pay its debts, and we cannot afford to jeopardize our ability to make that repayment. Delaying implementation of the tax credits and scholarships will allow the state to save money that can then be used to repay the Rainy Day Account.
Second, this delay gives public schools time to make improvements before the tax credits and scholarships go into effect. My executive amendment preserves the flexibility we provided in the original Alabama Accountability Act. Schools can immediately use that flexibility to begin improving education.
Failing schools must get better. No one disagrees with that. I want to make sure our state provides all public schools with real remedies to improve and become successful.
But we must also allow appropriate time for the remedies to work. It’s not enough to simply prescribe a possible cure; we should also give schools enough time for the prescription to show results.
With the tools afforded by the flexibility in the Accountability Act, and with the State Department of Education’s aggressive plan to address failing schools, local educators are empowered to significantly improve schools across the state.
Ultimately, my goal is to have zero failing schools. If the Legislature agrees with my executive amendment to the Accountability Act, we can make improvements in education while ensuring greater fiscal responsibility for the state.
I hope you will contact your legislators and encourage them to support this executive amendment.
Robert Bentley is governor of Alabama.