Unintended consequences
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Mar 05, 2013 | 5570 views |  0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Circuit Court Judge Charles Price, top left, hears testimony Tuesday, March 5, 2013 in Montgomery, Ala., on whether the governor can sign into law a bill providing private school tax credits. Photo: Dave Martin/Associated Press
Circuit Court Judge Charles Price, top left, hears testimony Tuesday, March 5, 2013 in Montgomery, Ala., on whether the governor can sign into law a bill providing private school tax credits. Photo: Dave Martin/Associated Press
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Laws from Goat Hill are like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get.

Montgomery’s anti-immigrant law should have produced enough red-faced farmers with rotting crops in the fields, harassed executives from foreign automakers with plants in Alabama and cringe-worthy headlines to teach lawmakers a hard lesson about looking before leaping. Sadly, that’s not the case as unintended consequences continue to smack the Alabama Legislature upside the head.

The Alabama Accountability Act of 2013 will surely be no exception.

One clue that we’re heading back down this hubris-laden path arrived Tuesday. In response to an Alabama Education Association lawsuit seeking to prevent the bill from becoming law, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said, “It’s unfortunate that anyone would try to stop a bill that gives students in failing schools more options to receive a quality education.”

That’s a pretty broad brush for the senator to employ. You either support the bill or desire to keep students locked in failing schools? It’s just the sort of bluff conversation we heard from lawmakers after the immigration bill was passed and before its ongoing series of embarrassments began.

Here are a few unintended consequences of the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013 to watch for.

• BRAIN DRAIN: First — and maybe most significantly— though sponsors of the bill argue that to avoid losing students, failing schools will improve, the opposite is likely to happen. Why? Because the most academically gifted and parentally supported students are the ones most likely to leave and those left behind will collectively give their schools even lower test scores and a lower graduation rate.

Because those schools will be left with the less-gifted and less-motivated, the task of breaking the cycle of low achievement will become even more difficult.

• ‘FAILING’S’ DEFINITION: No one wants students to leave a “failing” public school for a “failing” private school. What will happen if the state tells private schools that it plans to use the same criteria to rank them that is used to determine if public schools are “passing” or “failing?” That would make sense.

Although the act specifies that the private schools “must be accredited by a state-recognized accrediting agency,” some private schools have been reluctant to release student test scores or, for that matter, use the same standardized tests that are used by public schools. What will the state require from private schools to determine if they are qualified to accept state money? Will private schools meet these criteria or will they, in good Alabama fashion, opt-out of the program rather than accept the oversight?

Monitoring will be a sticky issue.

• THE WORKLOAD: According to the GOP website, the Department of Revenue will oversee the organizations set up to provide scholarships, but what agency will keep the records and verify that the students leaving one school for another are qualified for such a move? Will this job be assigned to the Department of Education, which was not involved in drafting the bill and has strong reservations about it? Furthermore, do our already understaffed and over-extended agencies have the personnel to handle this? Will the state increase agency appropriations to cover the expense? If so, from where will the money come?

• CHURCH AND STATE: Then there is religion. Many of the state’s private schools are sponsored by churches or other religious groups. The state shouldn’t get into the business of subsidizing religious schools through tax credits. That will surely bring a court challenge and the legal fees that go with it.

• THE COSTS: In many instances, the students already in private schools are there because schools in the area are “failing.” It appears likely that parents who have already taken their students out of failing schools — or refused to send them in the first place — will be given tax credits. One of the sponsors of the bill has indicated that this will be the case. If so, the number of parents seeking tax credits could grow dramatically and public education’s already scarce tax resources will dwindle even more.

Expect even more unfortunate consequences to follow from the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013.
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