Thursday, September 19, 2013

Alabama District Opts for iPads Over School Choice; State Has Biggest Drop in Per-Student Education Funding In the Nation

While segregated sororities at the University of Alabama was in the news this week, a few other state educational developments are of interest.  We have been covering the lawsuits filed about the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA), which branded dozens of schools across the state as “failing,” but because of various barriers, allowed only a few students who attended those schools to transfer to better ones. The Tuscaloosa County Schools system may have added to those barriers for students seeking to use the AAA as a path to a better education. This week, the Tuscaloosa district announced its plan to provide iPads or laptops to students this school year instead of paying transfer costs to better schools. (Tuscaloosa is home to the University of Alabama, coincidentally.) Tuscaloosa Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Swinford told the media, “I don't see the value in kids transferring to another school other than it being an out. We would prefer for the kids to stay at their school…. The state allows us that option of not accepting students into our other schools. We feel like this will better serve the students.” This position raised a few eyebrows, as reported by Trish Crain at Alabama School Connection.The AAA does not force private schools to accept transfer students, but Swinford heads a public school district that now plans to resist, as a policy matter, the efforts of its students in a “failing” school to transfer to another school. When asked about Tuscaloosa County Schools’ stance, State Education Superintendent Tommy Bice said that parents, not school districts, have the choice to transfer the student. Meanwhile, Tuscaloosa County Schools have already approved the iPad and laptop purchases. 

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Image: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
Alabama has also been working to change its constitution, and Trish Crain also has news about those efforts at the Constitution Revision Commission. The Commission is making its perennial attempt to change the language in the Alabama Constitution requiring that “separate schools shall be provided for white and colored children, and no child of either race shall be permitted to attend a school of the other race.” What is most embarrassing about this constitutional article is the number of attempts that have been made to excise the segregationist language, which voters have refused to do twice in recent history. Currently on the table is the following revision: “The legislature shall establish, organize and maintain a system of public schools throughout the state for the benefit of children thereof, provided nothing in this Section shall create any judicially enforceable right or obligation….” Trish Crain points out that the latter clause negates the first—that the state must establish a public education system, but there is no enforceable obligation to maintain it. Critics suggest that the lawmakers want to protect the state against equity funding lawsuits. Considering the data last week from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that Alabama’s per student funding dropped almost 23% since 2007—the state with the greatest drop in per-student dollars—such litigation may be inevitable. Access the Center’s full report here.

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