5 months ago

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

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:

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.

 

9 hours ago

University of North Alabama adopting new tuition plan

The University of North Alabama is switching to a tuition plan that officials say will result in increased costs for some students but not others.

Officials at the school in Florence say they are reducing the total number of student fees from seven to one, and fees will be included in the overall tuition cost.

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A statement says students taking 15 hours will see a maximum increase in expenses of 4.1%.

But some could pay less, and costs will not change for others.

School officials say a lag in state funding is a continuing problem.

North Alabama’s vice president for business, Evan Thornton, says the school has deferred maintenance and capital needs totaling more than $160 million.

The school has an undergraduate enrollment of about 6,200 students.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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10 hours ago

Nathan Lindsay joining governor’s office from BCA

Another high profile staffer from the Business Council of Alabama (BCA) is joining Governor Kay Ivey’s senior level team.

The governor on Monday announced that Nathan Lindsay will join her office as director of appointments effective July 1.

This position is charged with spearheading the meticulous work that goes into Ivey meeting her duty to appoint qualified, representative and appropriate people to positions on the state’s various boards and commissions.

A press release from the governor’s office outlined that Lindsay assumes the role with an extensive background in state government and the private sector, which uniquely qualifies him to advise the governor in this capacity.

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Most recently, through his work in political and governmental affairs at the BCA, Lindsay interacted with members of the business community throughout the Yellowhammer State, which significantly adds to his ability to identify and select candidates for various appointed posts.

Additionally, Lindsay’s early career included time in then-Governor Bob Riley’s office where he served as aide to the governor from 2006 to 2011. Lindsay also worked in the governor’s communications office as deputy press secretary and advised Riley on education policy.

“Nathan brings to our team a wealth of knowledge that I know will serve the state well,” Ivey said in a statement. “In addition to his expertise and insight, Nathan is a man of character. The men and women of my staff must have a strong work ethic, a depth of knowledge and a heart for public service. Nathan certainly embodies all of these characteristics.”

Lindsay earned his bachelor’s degree from Faulkner University. During his time at Faulkner, he served as SGA president and later, in 2018, he was awarded the Distinguished Alumni Award for the College of Arts and Sciences.

“As governor, I have the important responsibility of appointing qualified individuals to serve on the more than 450 boards and commissions in our state. These men and women must not only be highly-qualified, but they should also be a true reflection of our great state,” Ivey added. “I am confident we will continue to find the best people to serve our state, just as I am certain Nathan will serve my Administration exceptionally well in this position. His experience speaks for itself, and he shares my goal of moving Alabama into a better future.”

This comes weeks after Leah Garner departed BCA to become Ivey’s communications director.

Mark Colson also left BCA to become head of the Alabama Trucking Association recently.

Update 5:55 p.m.:

BCA President and CEO Katie Boyd Britt released a statement commending Ivey on the hire of Lindsay.

“Nathan’s background and expertise in political affairs combined with his political acumen uniquely qualify him to serve the governor and the state in this capacity,” Britt said. “I have no doubt Nathan will do an outstanding job, and I commend Governor Kay Ivey on this excellent addition to her staff.”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

10 hours ago

Alabama listed as one of the top 20 most patriotic states in America

A WalletHub report released Monday revealed Alabama to be on of the top 20 most patriotic states in America.

Ranked 19 overall on the list, with a score of 47.43, Alabama ranked first for the “Civics Education Requirement.”

The report “compared the 50 states across 13 key indicators of patriotism” and “ranges from share of enlisted military population to share of adults who voted in the 2016 presidential election to AmeriCorps volunteers per capita.”

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With one as “Most Patriotic” and 25 as “Average,” Alabama received the following rankings:

  • 5th – Average Number of Military Enlistees per 1,000 Civilian Adults
  • 30th – Active-Duty Military Personnel per 100,000 Civilian Adults
  • 17th – Veterans per 1,000 Civilian Adults
  • 1st – Civics Education Requirement
  • 12th – Share of Civilian Adult Population in Military Reserves
  • 10th – Share of Adults Who Voted in 2016 Primary Elections

Alabama also ranked eight overall for ‘Military Engagement.’

The report, which compared red states to blue states in terms of patriotism, found that red states were more patriotic. Red states received an average rank of 23.67, while blue states received an average rank of 28.25.

Kyle Morris also contributes daily to Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @RealKyleMorris.

11 hours ago

Brooks: ‘Really dumb’ for Democrats to elect candidates mainly on ‘skin pigmentation or their chromosomes’

In an interview on WVNN’s “The Dale Jackson Show”on Friday, Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05) lamented that many Democrats have become more interested in racial and gender identity politics than the welfare of America.

Coming off of her much maligned comments comparing American immigration facilities to “concentration camps,” host Dale Jackson asked the north Alabama congressman if he believes that Democrats in Congress will allow Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) to continue to serve as their “de facto face and leader.”

“Yes,” Brooks answered succinctly, promoting a follow-up request for his reasoning.

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“Well, she is where she is,” Brooks explained. “She’s got a lot of political power. She’s got a lot of support — surprisingly.”

“There are large, large numbers of American citizens who have bit off on this socialist stuff, who have bit off on this victimization stuff, who have bit off on thinking that the most important criteria in determining whether to elect someone is their skin pigmentation or their chromosomes — which is really dumb, OK,” he continued. “We oughta be electing people based on their character and based on their public policy positions.”

“But, notwithstanding that, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has become the face of the Democratic Party in many different respects, and she does have great influence as evidenced by the presidential candidates on the socialist Democrats’ side who are trying to cultivate her support,” Brooks added. “They want her endorsement.”

Listen, starting at the 8:25 mark:

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

12 hours ago

Democrats hope it’s 2017 all over again, Republicans just want the nightmare to end

In 2017, Roy Moore won a Republican primary run-off against an extremely flawed Luther Strange. Strange wasn’t just a regular candidate — he had the cloud of his appointment, and he was dogged by former Gov. Robert Bentley’s investigation, impeachment and resignation.

Alabama Republicans, outside of U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), were reluctant to criticize Roy Moore because they knew doing so would hand the Senate seat to now-Senator Doug Jones (D-AL).

But this is different.

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State Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) told the Montgomery Advertiser that he blamed the GOP establishment in 2017, but still thinks Moore can’t win in 2020.

He stated, “I do not believe, with the numbers I look at, that Roy Moore at the end of the day can get the nomination.”

State Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) dismissed Moore when asked about the candidates, saying, “If you look at the candidates, you got Roy Moore. I don’t think we need to say more there.”

Later, he all but endorsed U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne (R-Fairhope) by saying Byrne “would do the best job.”

Secretary of State John Merrill, a potential future Moore opponent, believes Moore has an uphill battle against Jones.

“I think it would be extraordinarily difficult for Judge Moore to be successful in a general election campaign against Senator Jones,” Merrill outlined.

He added, “I also think it would be difficult for Judge Moore to secure the Republican nomination.”

Congressman Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville), who endorsed Moore in 2017, has already endorsed State Rep. Arnold Mooney (R-Indian Springs) and is on record saying former U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions would be a favorite.

“I do believe that Jeff Sessions would clearly be number one in the poll rankings, based on his having been such a great senator on three principle issues: free enterprise versus socialism; deficit and debt; and border security,” he explained.

Say what you will, but you do not usually see these kinds of pronouncements from Republicans in the middle of a primary.

Democrats hope 2017 is going to be repeated in 2020, but there are many different factors that will matter.

Roy Moore is already fatally flawed as 300,000+ Republicans voters abandoned him in 2017 and stayed home. Many of those voters will vote in the primary in 2020, but will not vote for him.

U.S. Representative Mike Rogers (R-Saks) expressed a similar sentiment on CSPAN last week.

“I personally don’t think Roy Moore is going to be our nominee, but whoever our nominee is will prevail in November because you’ll have the full complement of Republican voters turning out turning out to vote,” he said.

This is not 2017.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN.