(Video above: De’Anthony Hampton and Jimmy Rivera share their experience with the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund)
UNION SPRINGS, Ala. — “Well, if you, like, look at a person the wrong way they might try to fight, and I don’t like fighting.”
That’s how De’Anthony Hampton remembers the beginning of his high school education.
As for De’Anthony’s friend, Jimmy Rivera, here’s how he remembers his:
“I was taking pre-algebra, but we never did anything. The teacher never taught us anything.”
While Alabama is home to some of the best schools in the nation, there are still many students like De’Anthony and Jimmy who for years have been stuck in failing schools, simply because they happen to live in the wrong zip code.
After decades of talent was squandered in struggling schools around the state, the Alabama legislature in 2013 passed the Accountability Act, for the first time providing children in habitually failing schools an opportunity to apply for a scholarship to a non-failing public or private school in their area. Though the program was slow to start, it picked up steam during the 2014-2015 school year, providing nearly 6,000 scholarships through several non-profit Scholarship Granting Organizations.
One such organization, the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund (AOSF), was able to provide a way out for De’Anthony and Jimmy.
Jimmy recalls the transformation he made in algebra after just a year at his new school, Conecuh Springs Christian School.
“I didn’t even know anything (when I first came here). I saw numbers and letters and was wondering, ‘Where did these letters come from? This is math!’ But at the beginning of this school year I did a review. We took a test and I made a 93. The teacher was proud. She said, ‘You’ve come a long way since you got here.'”
As it turns out, De’Anthony was pretty good at math. The teacher had recognized this and paired him with Jimmy.
“I was scared to come here at first,” Jimmy recalls, “but De’Anthony sat right beside me and we became friends.”
That friendship and a perceptive teacher helped move Jimmy off of a track where he may have been on his way toward dropping out, and put him on a track where he can now see himself breaking the cycle and going to college.
De’Anthony has experienced a similar transformation.
“He used to hide his face so the teacher wouldn’t see him,” Jimmy laughs. “And now all you see is his hand being raised up so he can be the one who answers.”
“My mother said she didn’t want me to be failing,” explained De’Anthony. “She said, ‘promise me you’ll do your best.’ I said, ‘Yes ma’am, I promise.'” And he’s delivered on that promise since earning his scholarship from the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund.
Last year, the Alabama Federation for Children polled the families who have received the scholarships and found that 95 percent are “satisfied with (their) child’s current scholarship school,” 95 percent are “happy with (their) child’s academic progress,” and 99 percent say their child feels “safe at their scholarship school.”
This is an incredible transformation for many of these families, and Alabama Federation for Children chairman Dr. Chad Mathis says it’s proof the program is working.
“We have always believed incredible educational achievement can happen when you give parents options and allow them to decide what school works best for their child,” said Dr. Mathis. “The results of this survey reinforce the fact that educational choice is working in Alabama.”
Alabamians around the state are also able to provide more opportunities for school children by diverting up to 50 percent of their Alabama income tax liability to AOSF for a dollar-for-dollar state tax credit. Individuals, C corporations, S corporations, partnerships, and LLCs can donate.
In other words, without any additional cost, Alabamians can stipulate that half of their state tax liability go toward giving children a chance they otherwise never would have had. For more information on how to do that quickly and easily, visit the AOSF website.