Monday, August 26, 2013
Following up on Derek’s posts last week on the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Alabama Accountability Act, fifty-one of the approximately 30,000 eligible students at “failing” public schools have transferred to private ones, according to State Superintendent of Education Tommy Bice. Thirty-three of the 51 transferring students are in Montgomery, the state capital. Bice told the media last Thursday that when the AAA was passed, he predicted that fewer than 100 students would transfer from "failing" public schools to private schools. Bice’s call seems to be right--the number of transferring students is not yet final, but as the state’s largest school systems were counted, it is unlikely to rise significantly. There are several reasons why students are not transferring: chiefly, as the lawsuit by the Southern Poverty Law Center points out, private school tuition is not affordable for many families, even with a $3,500 tax credit, and there are few schools to which to transfer without independent transportation. The SPLC lawsuit focuses on students in the Black Belt, but students in urban areas are not likely to fare better. And there are some other (admittedly more minor) reasons that may be underlying the low transfer rate: some of the schools identified as failing were not really failing at all, but were on the list because of past low performance. Some private schools in Alabama were Jim Crow schools that were established to circumvent integration. Other private schools are religious schools of denominations that are not known for inclusiveness—segregation among Southern congregations have not changed much since Martin Luther King declared that Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of Christian America. I suspect that some families are reluctant to send their children to schools where they might be less than welcome, either for religious, socio-economic, or racial reasons. The hurdles to private education are much higher than $3,500 can address, and since legislators must have known some of the obstacles, who was the AAA really for? At least for the next year, it appears that families who could already afford private school will be the real beneficiaries of the AAA’s school choice tax credits.