BOE urges repeal of Accountability Act

Published 5:00am Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Elmore County Board of Education voted unanimously to urge Alabama lawmakers to repeal or drastically amend the Alabama Accountability Act Monday night at a special called meeting.
The Alabama Accountability Act was the law that emerged from a conference committee on the initially popular Alabama Flexibility Bill. The flexibility measure, which let local school boards apply for leniency from certain state mandates, was expanded in conference committee and, according to the school board’s resolution, “became seriously detrimental to Alabama public schools.”
“It is the view of this board that public education in Alabama will be more harmed by the totality of AAA than helped by the flexibility it originally sought to provide,” the school board’s resolution said.
The resolution was approved unanimously, with the full support of all board members, Superintendent Jeff Langham said.
The conference committee, in late February, added provisions to the flexibility bill to establish a de facto school choice system similar to one that failed to pass in the 2012 session, extending tax credits to parents who move children from failing schools into either non-failing public schools or certain private or religious schools.
“Had we been included in the deliberations behind the scenes, rather than locked out of them, we could’ve easily avoided these very issues,” Langham said Tuesday. “We want to be open to working with our legislators, but when we are left out of the process, we felt a need, as the local school board, to speak up.”
The school board resolution “urges its legislative delegation and all members of the Alabama Legislature” either repeal the Accountability Act outright, or “at a minimum, to consider and approve the following amendments.”
Thirteen bullet-pointed amendments are suggested in the resolution.
One item addresses a common complaint with the accountability act. While the tax credits provide an escape hatch from “failing schools,” there is little consensus as to what schools will be labeled as “failing.”
The school board requests the Legislature direct the State Board of Education to determine what Alabama schools would meet that criteria. Langham said he’d received some guidance on that item, that they would include schools in the bottom 5 percent in reading and math proficiency on statewide assessments over the previous three years, according to the School Superintendents of Alabama.
“Most assuredly, we don’t have any schools that qualify under that definition,” Langham said.
The resolution also seeks to prevent students from nearby failing schools from being forced into the Elmore County system because, Langham said, “first and foremost we have a responsiblity to our taxpaying citizens.”
The board’s resolution requests changes to the bill that would narrow the standards under which a parent or student could claim the tax credit, and seeks to ease the bill’s effect on the Education Trust Fund, from which the tax credits for parents and the corporate providers of scholarships will flow.
The Alabama Education Association estimated an immediate $1.1 million impact to the trust fund, Langham said.
The eligibility for any tax credit would be capped at $7,200 per year per family, per the resolution, and the school board also asked the corporate tax credits be limited to 50 percent of the total donation, rather than the current 100 percent rate.
The school board’s resolution also asks the Legislature to find a funding source for AAA tax credits other than the trust fund.
Langham said the resolution came about very quickly, after he received word of a similar measure passed by the Madison City Board of Education. That was combined with recommendations for the superintendents association, Langham said, and the resolution was drafted and passed “in a matter of hours.”
“It’s not how we typically do business,” Langham said. “But (board members) read it and said we should absolutely move forward.”

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