A bill that should not have passed

Published 9:22am Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Last week, the Republicans in the Alabama Legislature abused the legislative process and forced a bill through the legislature that will set education in our state back decades. Ironically, the Republicans call this bill the “School Accountability Act.” There are so many problems with this bill and the way it was passed that it is hard to know just where to begin.

The original version of this bill was meant to allow school systems to seek waivers from state statutes and laws. But the version of the bill that passed last week went far beyond that, and included new spending measures and tax cuts designed to filter public education funds into private schools.

No one knows for sure how much this new bill will cost the state because the Republicans forced it through without allowing the Legislative Fiscal Office to analyze it. However, some education experts have said that public schools could lose up to $800 million in state funding as a result of this bill.

Schools receive funding based on the number of students who attend. So if a failing school has a mass exodus of students that school will in turn lose funding. Now how is that supposed to help a failing school?

And what about the families who, even with the tax credit, still cannot afford to send their kids to a private school? This tax credit would, at most, give a family $4,000 for each child who attends a private school. The Republicans have created a scholarship program to help these students, but it is capped at $25 million.

After the original version of the bill passed the House of Representatives, it went to the state Senate where it was amended. This forced the legislature to form a “conference committee” to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.

When the conference committee met, the Republicans immediately called the meeting into recess and went back into a closed room. When they returned, they brought with them a bill no one but them had seen before. The bill went back to the House and Senate, where the rules limited debate to only one hour. After that, it passed with less than half the elected members of the House voting in favor of it. Gov. Robert Bentley and the Republican leaders in the legislature intentionally kept their own education experts and advisors in the dark, causing the state school superintendent and the Association of School Boards to immediately pull back their support of the bill.

Deception was their plan all along. All because they knew their bill was so bad that no one would support it. This is not democracy, and it is certainly not what’s best for our children. The people of Alabama — and especially our children — deserve better.

 

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