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Republican ‘fix’ bills for Accountability Act only make a bad law worse

Published 6:01am Saturday, May 4, 2013

Once again, the Alabama Legislature is being asked to “fix” a bill that was rushed through without taking the time to think it through or debate it.

This is a disturbing trend that has taken place over since the Republican Supermajority took control in Montgomery.

In fact, if there has been a theme for the past three years, that theme has been “unintended consequences.”

This week, the Alabama House of Representatives will begin considering the first of the series of bills that are meant to “fix” the so-called Accountability Act.

The truth is the Accountability Act cannot be fixed. It is a broken piece of legislation, and no amount of new legislation or regulations can make it better.

But what is interesting are the proposed solutions that Republicans in Montgomery think will fix this bill.

The concerns that the public has with the Accountability Act are the way it was passed (using bait-and-switch tactics, back-room deals, only allowing legislators one hour to read and debate it, and forcing it through without any idea how much it would cost), how much money it will divert from public schools, the fairness of the vouchers, how much help this new law really provides to the “failing schools”, and whether it is even proper to divert public tax dollars to private schools.

But the Republicans proposed “fixes” do not address any of these concerns.

The first “fix” bill would make it so that “Non-failing” public and private schools do not have to accept students from failing schools.

I’m sorry, but wasn’t the whole point of the vouchers to give students in “failing schools” to have school choice?

School administrators are under extreme pressure to keep their students test scores up.

If they don’t then they might also become a “failing school”. What motivation do they or the school boards have to accept students from struggling schools?

So the Republicans first “fix” bill is meant to undermine the very purpose of the Accountability Act and make it harder for students in “failing schools” to transfer to better performing schools.

But this is not the only “fix” the Republicans in Montgomery are trying to pass.

Another Republican proposal would expand the tax breaks given to those who contribute to the new scholarship funds.

Now, the tax credits will be 100 percent instead of the original 50 percent.

And these tax credits will be paid for out of the statewide education budget; meaning even more cuts for our already underfunded schools.

A third “fix” that Republicans are proposing would guarantee that the vouchers can be given to those who already send their children to private schools, even if their children never attended a failing public school.

The Republican chairman of the House’s Ways and Means — Education Committee, which writes the education budget each year, estimates that at least 25 percent of the children already in private schools will be eligible for the tax credit.

The point of the vouchers was supposed to be to make it easier for kids in “failing schools” to transfer to “non-failing schools.”

How does a voucher for those already sending their kids to private schools help these kids?

And how many more millions of dollars will be diverted from our public schools to pay for these unnecessary vouchers?

Alabama legislators should have never passed a bill that they did not read or understand.

But that has been a consistent theme since the Republican Supermajority took control of the legislature: just get something passed and fix it later. That is not leadership, and it certainly is not being responsible.

These “fixes” for the Accountability Act only make this terrible law even worse.

The Accountability Act cannot be “fixed.” There are too many problems with what this law does and the way in which it was passed.

The only responsible solution is to repeal the Accountability Act and go back to the responsible education reform plan that was passed unanimously out of the state senate and supported by educators, school boards, and the superintendents.

We cannot have responsible education reform if the Republican leadership in the Alabama legislature cannot also be responsible in how they lead and conduct the state’s business.

 

Johnny Mack Morrow is a state representative for Franklin County. 

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