Del Marsh vows to ‘protect,’ ‘increase’ Alabama Accountability Act — ‘I will fight to the end’
Despite recent attacks by the Alabama Education Association (AEA) on the Alabama Accountability Act, State Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) wants to make it clear that the staple of school choice in the Yellowhammer State is not going anywhere, vowing to “fight to the end to protect” and even increase funding for the legislation.
As Alabama celebrates School Choice Week, it is hard to forget AEA-backed moves in 2018 by the respective public school boards of Montgomery, Mobile and Baldwin Counties calling on the state legislature to repeal the Accountability Act during its coming regular session, which begins on March 5.
However, when asked by Yellowhammer News in a recent interview whether he saw the attacks on the legislation carrying over to the legislature, Marsh left no room for doubt.
“No, I don’t see it. I can tell you in the Senate no one’s going to have a repeal of the Accountability Act,” Marsh responded.
He continued, “And I’ve had this argument over and over again. I’m nothing but proud of the Accountability Act. The reality is this: you’re taking less than one-half of one percent of the entire [Education Trust Fund] budget for school choice. And school choice – to parents and kids who are in failing systems in most cases, who have no other choice, they can’t go to a private school [because] they don’t have the money to get out of that trap – it is the only piece of legislation that drives accountability to the public sector.”
“The public sector, if they have a failing school, what’s the consequences?” Marsh said. “None.”
Marsh sponsored the Accountability Act when it passed the state legislature in 2013. While dedicated to improving opportunity in education across the state, Marsh saw firsthand in his district why school choice is needed.
“I’ve had a failing school in Anniston for years and we can’t get the board to make changes to come out of a failing status,” he advised.
However, the Accountability Act provides a safety net for families and kids otherwise stuck, allowing students below a certain income level or transferring from a failing school to transfer to another public institution or a private or parochial school through tax credit scholarships and educational tax credits.
“[I]t is the only mechanism out there of giving parents and kids hope that are in those situations and the only mechanism driving change,” Marsh advised.
Other school choice options that he and fellow pro-growth conservative leaders have championed (like public charter schools) are designed to do the same thing: provide increased opportunity and hope. Marsh advised that the goal is “trying to find ways” to do this whenever possible.
“Public charter schools, which we worked together to pass, same thing – trying to find ways,” Marsh outlined.
He also emphasized that this – from his viewpoint – is not a battle between public schools and everything else. In fact, he believes that the “accountability” provided by the Accountability Act should be pushing failing public school systems to change for the better.
Marsh explained, “We believe in the public school system. We want it to be successful. But we, at the same time, cannot sit back and accept these low test scores and then say everything is okay. Show us where the change comes from.”
While the legislation may have its detractors nonetheless, the Accountability Act is not going anywhere anytime soon. Indeed, if Marsh gets his way as the powerful pro tem of the Senate, the annual tax credit scholarship cap of $30 million could be raised.
“The Accountability Act – as far as I’m concerned, I will fight to the end to protect the Accountability Act. In fact, I’ll do all I can to increase it to make sure it maintains its status in the state to provide that choice for those kids and those parents,” Marsh concluded.
Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn