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  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

Rachel Bryars: Four myths to dispel during Alabama School Choice Week

(Pixabay)

Gov. Kay Ivey recently proclaimed this “Alabama School Choice Week” and thousands of families will celebrate reforms created by the Alabama Accountability Act, including scholarships so low-income parents can transfer their children from under-performing schools.

Critics of the program, however, will likely respond by repeating some of the many myths about the law.

Here are four you’ll probably hear:

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Myth #1: Scholarships steal money from public schools

The Alabama Accountability Act “has directly siphoned more than $140 million from Alabama’s cash-strapped K-12 classrooms,” wrote the Alabama Education Association in a September 2018 edition of the teacher’s union magazine.

But public school systems aren’t actually losing money.

They are now collecting more money to educate fewer students with the biggest budget in a decade. Overall, the state’s multi-billion dollar education trust fund has grown since the scholarships were first offered, even while enrollment has steadily decreased.

Last year alone, tax revenue that funds the education budget grew by nearly half a billion dollars – about three times as much as the scholarship program has spent in six years combined.

Also, it costs roughly $9,500 annually to educate a student in public school, according to budget data.

But it only costs about $6,500 to educate the same child in private school, which includes the costs of administering the scholarships, according to Warren Callaway, executive director of Scholarships For Kids, one of the largest scholarship granting organizations in the state, and a member of the recently formed Alabama Accountability Act Coalition.

“It’s a great deal for taxpayers,” Callaway said. “They’ve given us $146 million and we’ve provided $200 million in education. The cost of education is not fixed because [public schools] don’t have to educate the child we have taken off their hands.”

Myth #2: Even high performing schools that don’t have any students transferring out on scholarship still “lose money”

“The highest performing school districts lose revenue at the same rate as all other districts,” according to the teachers’ union article. “It does not matter if you have no failing schools in your district. It does not matter if you have no scholarship recipients in your district. All school systems are still penalized under the [program].”

Callaway says this is “bogus.”

“The AEA tells Mountain Brook City, arguably the best system in the state, that they’ve lost $834,956 due to the Accountability Act,” Callaway said. “That’s hogwash. They haven’t lost a dollar.”

Callaway examined state budget data showing Mountain Brook enrollment has largely been static, while state spending on students has gone up. In effect, they’ve received more money than years prior despite the AEA’s claims they’ve lost money.

Myth #3: A University of Alabama study proves school choice doesn’t work

A state-commissioned study conducted by the University of Alabama’s Institute for Social Science Research found that students using the scholarships performed about as well, on average, as their public school peers.

Critics believe this proves school choice doesn’t help students improve academically.

But advocates claim this indicates a huge achievement since research shows poverty strongly correlates with poor academic performance. The study showed low-income scholarship students often did better academically than their low-income public school counterparts.

“We’ve taken kids who you would predict would be on the bottom side of the bell curve of achievement and we’ve gotten them to the mean,” Callaway said. “I would put the headline of that study, instead of ‘They scored average, ho-hum,’ I would say ‘They scored average, exclamation point!’”

Myth #4: The program should be repealed because not all scholarship recipients are zoned for failing schools

Students zoned for failing schools are awarded the scholarships first, and any remaining funds are then given to other disadvantaged families in schools that are generally close to the bottom 6th percentile — the state’s definition of a failing school.

“Would you want to send your child to a 7th percentile school or an 8th percentile school?” Callaway asked. “The answer is no. Those are still low performing schools.”

Overall, there’s a lot about education besides school choice that Alabamians can celebrate this week.

Our recently released state report card revealed district and school improvement last year, with more As, Bs and Cs, and fewer Ds and Fs than the year before.

Our First Class Pre K program continues to succeed and draw national attention.

And Montgomery will open its first charter school this year.

None of these achievements, including school choice, would have happened without new ideas and reform.

“The Accountability Act wasn’t an initiative to take the place of public education, it was just intended to show there is an alternative way of doing things and to upset the status quo,” Callaway said.

No doubt the families celebrating their life-changing opportunity this week thank God that it did.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is a senior fellow at the Alabama Policy Institute. Email her at Rachel@alabamapolicy.org or connect with her on Instagram @rbryars.

 

2 months ago

Alabama school boards are choosing systems over students by calling for scholarship repeal

(AOSF/YouTube)

Boards representing three of the state’s largest public school systems – Mobile, Baldwin and Montgomery counties – recently passed resolutions calling for a repeal of Alabama’s landmark tax credit scholarships for low-income families.

They claim that the small yet popular program created in 2013 by the Alabama Accountability Act has “caused harm to the financial wellbeing” of their cash-strapped systems.

But is this accurate?

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Truth is, Alabama is now collecting more money to educate fewer students. Overall, the statewide education budget has grown since the scholarships were first offered. Meanwhile, enrollment has steadily decreased over the past five years, reports AL.com.

Of these three systems in particular, each have received significant funding increases while two saw decreases in the number of students they served.

According to an analysis of state budget data performed by Ryan Cantrell, a school choice advocate who helped craft the scholarship program:

–Mobile’s share of state funding increased by nearly eight percent since 2014 while its enrollment shrank by six percent from last year.
–Montgomery’s funding has increased by five percent while its overall student population decreased by more than seven percent.
–And Baldwin’s share of state education dollars increased by a whopping 22.5 percent.

Even a rural system like Tallapoosa County, whose board also called for the scholarships to be repealed, has seen its funding grow by seven percent while its enrollment shrank by nearly four percent since 2013, according to Warren Callaway, executive director of Scholarships For Kids.

As for the scholarships? The program represents only one-half of one percent of the state’s multi-billion-dollar education trust fund, which we just learned grew by $428 million, or nearly seven percent, over last year, according to AL.com.

Still, some school system officials claim that keeping 99.5 percent of an ever-growing budget for business as usual isn’t enough.

They want it all.

“We’re tight. Things are short,” said Montgomery Public School Board member Melissa Snowden in a WSFA report. “You know we have a lot of needs and so every bit counts.”

We’ve heard from the school boards, but what do parents and students think of the scholarships?

Ask Mobile County resident and mother-of-five Alleane West.

“It was a relief that nobody would understand,” West said in an Alabama Opportunity Scholarship video about the program’s impact on her family. “You know, you’re a single mom with boys trying to not make them a statistic.”

West’s oldest son, Nick, used the scholarship to attend McGill-Toolen High School where his classmates named him “Most Likely to Succeed.” He earned a 32 on his ACT and a full scholarship to the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

“It is hard when you are a parent trying to raise men, and to keep them away as much as possible from what is really out there,” West said.

Ask a Montgomery County parent.

“When my son Carlos was in the fifth grade, he was constantly bullied and I wanted to desperately put him into a private school,” wrote Nyenya Webster in Alabama Daily News, adding that the scholarship “has been a lifesaver for my son.”

“He graduates in two years and is now considering college,” she said. “My son never talked about going to college before …”

And ask a parent in Baldwin County, where you’ll find no failing schools and relatively few scholarship recipients, but where bullying is still a painful reality like anywhere else.

“To witness what this opportunity has done for my son emotionally, has been the best experience I could have as a parent,” said Lauren Hunter, who pursued a scholarship when she learned what her son was enduring at his old school. She said he feels “safe” and has flourished in Catholic school.

Despite the successes that families have experienced, David Tarwater, who offered the resolution shortly before his term recently ended on the Baldwin County Board of Education, believes the program is “stealing money” from students.

“There’s no way to fix it,” he said in a Lagniappe article. “We’re asking for this thing to die and to die a quick death.”

But if this program dies, so may the dreams of thousands of low-income Alabamians who seek nothing more than to put their children in the best learning environment possible – a choice that higher incomes families have always had.

Remember the parable Nathan told King David? A rich man had a great many sheep, yet took a poor man’s only beloved lamb to feed a visitor.

Ask yourself: since Alabama public education gets the overwhelming lion’s share of a growing state budget, and low-income scholarship recipients get only one half of one percent … who is who in the parable?

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is a senior fellow at the Alabama Policy Institute. Contact her at rachel@alabamapolicy.org.