MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WHNT) – In a press release today, the Alabama Department of Education released an analysis of the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013.
“The mission of Alabama’s public school system has always been and will forever be to provide all of Alabama’s children access to a quality education and to prepare them for college, work, and a future of their choosing.
The vast majority of our schools are meeting this challenge, and Alabama’s academic outcomes are at their highest level in history. Regretfully, however, meeting that mission has not always been a reality for some students, for a variety of reasons that we must own collectively as a state. We must work collaboratively to ensure those impediments no longer exist.
The Alabama Accountability Act of 2013 passed by the House and Senate poses two distinctly different concepts:
1. Flexibility supported openly as a catalyst for innovation and reform.
2. A tax credit tuition concept for student choice that contains yet-to-be-determined financial implications for the Education Trust Fund.
We are in the process of carefully reviewing the current legislation for which the State Board of Education/State Department of Education is charged with promulgating regulations. The following areas of concern are the most predominant findings at this point in our review.
1. Definition of a Failing School. There are four fundamentally different criteria listed in the bill, none of which are part of the State Board of Education’s new accountability plan that advances our efforts under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind. For clarity and uniformity, we would like to see this language simplified to designate the applicable schools as those identified as Priority Schools under the Alabama Accountability Plan.
2. School Choice. Currently, students who attend schools identified under No Child Left Behind as a School Improvement School or System have the option to transfer to a school within the same system that is not designated as needing school improvement. In the event there is not a school choice option within the system, other options could be exercised. In an effort to lessen the financial impact on the public school system, the first option should be to choose a non-failing public school within the same system.
3. Criteria for Participating Non-Public Schools. The bill outlines clear criteria for non-public schools that participate in the scholarship portion of the program, but not for those that simply accept the tax credit amount for tuition reimbursement. To assure that all state dollars are used responsibly, all participating and benefiting schools should be held to the same expectations. Otherwise, there will be no accountability for the non-public schools to determine their academic status. Parents would only be able to make wise and informed choices if the non-public schools were to participate in the state testing program.
4. Transportation. Currently, Alabama’s public school transportation system is underfunded at $52,000,000 less than is required to operate the system. The added transportation costs to local school systems would impact their limited local revenue base and would create a supplement/supplant issue related to federal funds available for certain transportation costs.
5. Special Education. The current bill requires that for any student identified as needing special education services that those services remain the responsibility of the original local school system – even though the child no longer attends that system. As a result, the LEA would receive no federal child count funding under IDEA, nor would it receive state funding. This would require local school systems to spend local revenue to support a student who no longer attends the local school system.
6. Governance/Oversight. This bill establishes dual responsibilities. There is the requirement for the State Board of Education to promulgate any necessary rules and regulations required for the implementation of the Act, and the bill also assigns the State Board’s authority of student data collection to the Department of Revenue for those students participating in the program.
7. Local School Impact. For those students and their parents who choose not to leave a Priority School, there will be a negative impact for future funding for those schools. That exact amount is unknown because it cannot currently be calculated since we do not have an estimate of those who may choose the tax credit option. An analysis of the Priority Schools and their current financial base has revealed concerns regarding their ability to educate those remaining students with less state and subsequently less federal funding.
8. Student Testing. Several of the references to the testing criteria in the bill are outdated as compared to our current testing protocol. If this becomes law as written, we would be holding our public school students to a much higher standard than those enrolled in non-public schools. There is also included an expense to the local public school system for the testing of non-public school students.
9. Effects on Education Trust Fund (ETF). Based on the income tax credit for individuals and corporations there is a yet-to-be-determined negative impact on the total potential income to the ETF. This will not only affect the K-12 budget but also the budgets of the Department of Postsecondary Education and Institutions of Higher Education.”