Tuesday, House Budget Committee Chair, Jay Love accidentally spilled the beans about the real purpose of the Alabama Accountability Act: support private schools with public money. Love would never admit that outright, of course, but all it takes is a little math.
Let’s do some.
The chairman of the House education budget committee estimated that the state’s new school tax credit program could cost the Education Trust Fund between $50 million and $60 million in 2014.
The new law, called the Alabama Accountability Act, allows families with children zoned for failing schools to receive tax credits – estimated at up to $3,500 annually — to help pay tuition at a private school or a better public school.
Love said he assumed that 25 percent of the state’s 61,000 private school students would qualify for the credit.
Love said he also assumed that 10 percent of an estimated 74,000 students at “failing” schools would transfer and take the tax credit.
25% of 61,000 private school students: 15,250 students.
15,250 students x $3500 tax credit: $53 million
10% of 74,000 “failing school” students: 7,400
7,400 students x $3500 tax credit: $26 million
Total impact to the Education Trust Fund:
$53 million in private school subsidies
$26 million for public school students
Again, we run across that seemingly ubiquitous GOP math impairment.
Using Rep. Love’s numbers, the expected hit to the ETF is almost $80 million dollars. That’s a third more than his high estimate of $60 million.
It could be that Rep. Love graduated from one of those “failing” public schools where math wasn’t taught, but it’s not likely. No, here’s what’s going on.
Look at the numbers of students expected to claim the credits: 25% of private school kids, but only 10% of public school kids. It looks like Love understands the basic finding of AL.com reporter Challen Stephens’ investigative report. Most public school kids won’t get to use the credit because there’s no place for them to go.
In parts of Alabama, in the rural and poor Black Belt counties, there are few options for schooling. There are no complications, no non-failing schools to flee to, no nearby suburban systems. There are just two options.
An almost entirely black public school labeled as failing.
And a mostly white, small Christian school.
“We think it will affect us positively,” said Mona Padgett, principal of the private Conecuh Springs Christian School in Bullock County. “If nothing else, the families who are already here will gain the tax credit.”
Padgett said her school is interested in taking in more students and increasing its ministry, but there is no way the school could handle all of those eligible for the tax credit. “Realistically we could probably take 20 to 30 without adding new classrooms. I don’t know that we could take hundreds.”
That means the more affluent students who attend the private academies, opened decades ago in the face of federal intervention, will now be eligible for state support.
“What this law does is essentially say we’re now going to start subsidizing with state funds the private school attendance of those schools that were built to resist desegregation,” said Suitts.
Look at Love’s numbers in this light and you see that he was correct about the law costing $50-$60 million. That’s $53 million for the students already enrolled in private schools and enough left over for about 2,000 public school kids to compete for the very limited spaces available to them.
Using Love’s projections then, 88% of the money taken from the ETF will be used to subsidize students who are already enrolled in private schools. It’s a kind of reverse Socialism: take public money and hand it over to private business.
These are only estimates though. State legislators can’t accurately calculate the total cost of the “Alabama Accountability Act,” because the bill is so poorly written. The act states that students in “failing schools” can transfer to other public or private schools – but fails to define what a “failing school” is.
Is it a school where the football team had a losing season? A school without a drama program? A school where some percentage of students are below grade level? If that’s the definition, then how many students have be behind, in what subjects, and for how long? What if just the 5th graders are struggling while the rest of the students are doing well? We don’t know, because the law doesn’t say.
It’s a familiar pattern with our Alabama GOP legislative supermajority: vote first, read later, take heat for passing screwed-up bills, and then waste more legislative time trying to fix they problems they they themselves made.
Alabama voters are used to footing the bills for this by now, but with the Alabama Accountability Act, Alabama’s poorest schoolchildren will suffer as well.