Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Alabama releases "failing schools" list; school district reports 'pandemonium' as parents call to transfer their children to new schools

Alabama Education Superintendent Tommy Bice discussing the failing schools list (photo: Julie Bennett/ jbennett@al.com)
Alabama released its list of 78 "failing schools" today to support the need for school vouchers in the Alabama Accountability Act, and to no one's surprise, almost all of the schools identified are in low-income areas that have little local funding. In the state's second largest city, Mobile, school officials said that at least 90 percent of its students at failing schools come from low-income households.

Twenty-five schools on the list are also either under a federal desegregation order or are currently involved in desegregation cases. The Accountability Act exempts schools under a federal desegregation order. However, the Alabama State Department of Education says the conflict could mean that students trying to transfer from a failing public school to a high-performing public school could be "impacted," as well as those students who are trying to transfer to a school under a desegregation order. Students who transfer to private schools will not be affected by any conflict between the Act and federal desegregation orders, but they are also likely to be a small percentage of the students seeking transfers. Huntsville Superintendent Casey Wardynski candidly said that because his school district is still under a 1970 desegregation order, "[t]here is unlikely to be much room in any of our schools for transfers under this law."

The fallout from the announcement started immediately, with school districts in Huntsville, Mobile, and Tuscaloosa fielding calls from concerned parents trying to transfer their children to new schools in the fall. Superintendent Wardynski asked parents Tuesday to "stay the course at the schools their children already attend."

That's a big part of the problem--there is nowhere for many students in failing schools to go. If their families cannot afford private school tuition (which would require upfront costs that would be partially offset later with a $3,500 education tax credit), their choices are other nearby public schools which may also be in the "failing" category. For those students, there is no better school system to transfer to. Suburban school districts will not be eager to accept a wave of transfer students in the fall (see Profs. James E. Ryan and Michael Heise's article about the reasons why), and the Accountability Act does not require them to do so.

Fulfilling the predictions of articles by blog co-editor Derek Black, Robert Garda, and others about on the potential impact of school voucher programs on low-income and minority students, there is no golden ticket out yet from a failing school district. Read more here.



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