12 months ago

‘School choice’ also means ‘tax choice’ in Alabama

It’s back-to-school season and for some parents, this is a happy time.

But for those whose children are stuck in underperforming schools, or schools where they are bullied or are in danger, this is a heartbreaking time, especially if they cannot afford to move or go to private school.

“There was fighting every day. People wanted to shoot me, kill me, and everything,” said Calvin Coleman in a speech about his experiences at his Mobile public high school.

Did you know that you, or your company, can help students like Calvin by donating a portion of what you already owe in state income taxes to a program that funds scholarships for low-income families in Alabama?

“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 of Montgomery in Alabama Daily News. Every day was a struggle, she added. “I was at a loss as to what to do to help my son.”

Then Webster learned about the tax-credit scholarship program created in 2013 by the Alabama Accountability Act that serves roughly 4,000 low-income, mostly minority Alabama students.

She applied, and Carlos received a scholarship to attend Success Unlimited Academy in Montgomery.

“Success Unlimited has been a lifesaver for my son,” Webster wrote. “He … is now considering college. My son never talked about going to college before Success.”

For those who want to help other Alabama families break the cycle of poverty through education, it’s a no-brainer.

“For a donor, it doesn’t cost them anything,” said Warren Callaway, executive director of Scholarships For Kids, one of the scholarship granting organizations funded by the program.

That’s because a tax credit is different from a charitable contribution. When you make a charitable contribution to a non-profit organization, you deduct a portion of that on your income tax. However, a tax credit allows you to take a dollar for dollar reduction in your state income tax.

“Basically, donors are redirecting some of their state income tax liability to a [scholarship granting organization],” Callaway said. “So, if you give $100 to us, you can reduce your state income tax by $100.”

Who benefits from the donation?

“The average household income for these students is under $30,000 so these are families that would have no other way of choosing the school that is best for their child,” said Ryan Cantrell, director of state strategy and political affairs for the American Federation for Children, during an interview of the 1819 podcast.

Higher-income families have always had school choice, Cantrell said, but “it’s the low-income families who get stuck with no options in under-performing schools or schools that don’t work for their child.”

There are $30 million in tax credits available and, so far, only about a third have been claimed, according to the Department of Revenue’s My Alabama Taxes website.

Here’s how you can reserve your tax credit before the December 31, 2019, deadline:

Step 1: Estimate how much income tax you or your business will owe Alabama next year by checking how much you paid last year. Individuals and corporations can donate up to 50 percent of their tax bill, and while individuals are limited to $50,000, corporations are unlimited.

Step 2: Visit the My Alabama Taxes website and follow instructions for reserving an Alabama Accountability Act tax credit.

Step 3: Send a check to one of the seven scholarship granting organizations in Alabama within 30 days.

Step 4: When you do your taxes next year, fill out an Alabama Department of Revenue Schedule AATC form to reduce your income tax bill by the amount you donated.

For more help, individuals may call the Alabama Department of Revenue at 334-353-0602 or 334-353-9770, and corporations may call 334-242-1200.

You’re already going to have to write a check for your state income taxes. Why not control where some of that money goes, especially when it has the power to change lives?

“It was a relief that nobody would understand,” said mother-of-five Alleane West 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.”

Watch:

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is a senior fellow at the Alabama Policy Institute. Connect with her at rachel@alabamapolicy.org or on Instagram @RachelBlackmonBryars.

12 mins ago

7 Things: No fines for violators of the mask ordinance, no issues found in Alabama nursing homes, Biden urged to avoid debate stage and more …

7. Overnight camp in Georgia sees outbreak

  • The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Georgia Department of Public Health have published a report showing that 231 children and 29 adults at an overnight camp in Georgia tested positive for the coronavirus after attending the camp in June and after “camp attendees engaged in a variety of indoor and outdoor activities that included daily vigorous singing and cheering, which might have contributed to transmission.”
  • The CDC said that this situation provides more “evidence demonstrating that children of all ages are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection and, contrary to early reports, might play an important role in transmission.” At the camp, there were only 344 people tested, so 76% of tests were positive.

6. Americans just want sports, sports refuses

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  • Both the NBA and MLB saw significant ratings drop-off after their perspective opening games while the leagues have force-fed the American public social justice messaging at every opportunity as opposed to offering them an escape.
  • This ratings collapse comes as Americans are trapped inside their homes, with movie theaters, concerts and other entertainment options lacking, but the media and their Democrats continue to cram a message down the throat of the American people, who can’t really openly oppose but have decided to ignore it.

5. Space and Rocket Center gets help from Boeing

  • The U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville previously announced that if they didn’t raise $1.5 million soon, they’d have to close their doors, and now Boeing has donated $500,000 to their “Save Space Camp” campaign. 
  • Thanks to the Boeing donation, the Center has now raised more than $1.1 million, but there have also been donations from individuals from all 50 states and more than 6,000 individuals worldwide. 

4. The coronavirus relief bill has stalled

  • The most recent coronavirus relief package in the U.S. Senate, the HEALS Act, has stalled, and U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) doesn’t think Democrats are “serious about really providing effective relief.” He said that after the HEROES Act was passed in May, he didn’t think they would “negotiate in good faith.”
  • Johnson also provided some financial perspective on the relief packages, with previous packages being $2.9 trillion, saying that’s “about 13.5 percent of last year’s economy” with the HEROES Act being “$3 trillion, basically another 13, 14 percent. It’s just not a serious proposal.”

3. Biden advised to hide in his basement

  • While former Vice President Joe Biden continues to be told to say he is ready to debate President Donald Trump, his advisors, supporters and the American media are reminding him that they will support him no matter what he does so there is no reason for him to expose himself on the debate stage for millions of Americans to judge his abilities.
  • CNN political analyst and former Clinton White House spokesman Joe Lockhart told Biden and CNN’s audience, “Whatever you do, don’t debate Trump.” Hillary Clinton senior adviser Zac Petkanas tweeted, “Biden shouldn’t feel obligated to throw Trump a lifeline by granting him any debates at all. This is not a normal presidential election and Trump is not a legitimate candidate.”

2. No issues within nursing homes

  • After nursing homes across the state saw high rates of coronavirus deaths and infections, the Alabama Department of Public Health had to inspect and evaluate the facilities, but there were no issues found and now there are some questioning the inspections.
  • Senior policy attorney for the Center for Medicare Advocacy Toby Edelman said that finding no issues within the facilities “is really quite implausible,” especially when 50% of nursing homes in the state had infection control issues, according to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

1. No citations are being issued for ignoring mask mandate

  • When the statewide mask mandate was issued, Governor Kay Ivey did emphasize education instead of citations for people who violate the mandate, and so far, that has been true since police and sheriff departments in Mobile, Montgomery and Jefferson counties haven’t issued any citations for those not wearing masks.
  • Ivey has said that the reason for “the mask mandate was not to penalize people but to inform them of urgency and importance of wearing a face mask can help provide as we slow down this pandemic.” With slightly over two weeks of the mask ordinance behind us, Alabama saw a huge number of new coronavirus cases on Sunday.

16 hours ago

VIDEO: Will Dismukes’ troubles mount, calls for more stimulus may never end, Governor Kay Ivey keeps the masks on and more on Alabama Politics This Week …

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and Alabama Democratic Executive Committee member Lisa Handback take you through this week’s biggest political stories, including:

— Can State Rep. Will Dismukes (R-Prattville) survive the latest news to come out of the event he appeared at for Nathan Bedford Forrest?

— Will politicians in Washington, D.C. ever be able to stop creating stimulus programs without the economy totally collapsing?

— How much longer will we be wearing masks in public?

Jackson and Handback are joined by Yellowhammer News reporter Henry Thornton to talk about all that is happening in Montgomery in regard to Dismukes, prison reform and more.

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Jackson closes the show with a “parting shot” aimed at people trying to defend Dismukes and those holding a 199th birthday party for Nathan Bedford Forrest.

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=304131553974923

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

20 hours ago

Should we trust experts?

Experts in public health and epidemiology have driven policymaking during the COVID-19 pandemic. How much should we trust experts? Critics dismiss Republicans who voice distrust of experts as anti-science. Yet even experts know very little about complex economies and societies.

Frustration with experts does cross party lines. New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo recently remarked of experts’ forecasts of hospital usage, “They were all wrong.”

The “Wisdom of Crowds” argument, wonderfully explained by James Suroweicki, provides a first reason for doubt. Numerous seemingly poorly informed opinions can be remarkably wise. Mr. Suroweicki relates a story from British scientist Francis Galton about a contest at a country fair in 1906. Nearly 800 people paid sixpence to guess the weight of an ox (after being slaughtered and dressed); the average was only one pound off.

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The theory of efficient financial markets illustrates another reason for skepticism. An old joke was that darts thrown at the stock page were as reliable as a broker’s recommendations. Why? Stock prices quickly incorporate all available information. With all information priced, a stock price is as likely to go up as down. The market can be consistently beaten only with inside information.

The central planning of socialism represents the most thorough application of expertise to an economy. Proponents thought that “scientific” socialism would replace the chaos and waste of the market with rationally ordered economic activity. Only a handful of economists in the 1930s and 1940s, notably Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek, argued coherently that socialism would fail.

Socialism failed in part due to the different nature of truths in the physical and social sciences. Truth in the physical sciences in general and timeless: water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit and boils at 212 degrees. Truth in economics depends on time and place. Are trains the best way to travel between American cities? True in the latter half of the 1800s, but now flying and driving dominate.

Another factor is the subjective value of goods and services, meaning based on the wants, needs and desires of consumers. Goods are valuable because people will pay money for them. People differ greatly in their wants and needs, making it nearly impossible to predict what will be valuable, as pet rocks from the 1970s and the variety of videos on YouTube with millions of views illustrate.

Experts are disadvantaged on economic questions. Truths cannot be learned from a textbook, may not hold everywhere (or anywhere tomorrow), and depend on idiosyncratic consumer preferences.

The other part of the argument against socialism is the miraculous degree of coordination in markets. Thousands of products from around the world are available in a grocery store without preordering a week in advance. The times we can’t get what we want, like the recent toilet paper shortage, stand out.

By contrast, central planning in the former Soviet Union produced empty shelves. People would wait in line for hours to buy goods. Russians would join lines without even asking what people were waiting for.

No one would hold a high school dance without a committee to plan the event. Yet the market economy has no one in charge, no one with the power to command others. Coordination occurs voluntarily and is called spontaneous order. And the market does not merely repeat what was done yesterday, it offers improvements too. No one ordered Mark Zuckerberg to start Facebook, he just decided to try.

Politicians rely on experts to devise policies because America has, in Abraham Lincoln’s words, a government “for the people.” In America, restrictions on our freedom can be justified only if they make us – as opposed to the rulers – better off.

Politicians consequently seek out the experts willing to justify policies. Economists who do not understand economic knowledge, subjective value and spontaneous order will offer unrealistic claims about how government will improve our lives. Such experts exhibit what Professor Hayek called, “The Fatal Conceit.” We should not trust experts who are unaware of the limits of their expertise.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and host of Econversations on TrojanVision. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Troy University.

22 hours ago

Alabama principal’s viral music video Hammers home COVID-19 guidelines

While educators are figuring out how to safely return to school, one principal wants to make sure kids remember to laugh and enjoy life, even during a worldwide pandemic.

Dr. Quentin Lee, principal at Childersburg High School, recently created a video parody of MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This” song, complete with dance moves and warnings to sanitize and social distance, all in the name of safety and good, carefree fun.

“Doing silly stuff is something I really enjoy,” Lee said in an interview Thursday with Alabama NewsCenter. “I released a song in May about my feelings toward COVID, and it was just me sitting at my desk screaming. It made national media, and I figured it was time to do something different.”

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Donning a Childersburg Tiger blue facemask and armed with a light blue can of Lysol, Lee in the video dances his way through CDC-recommended guidelines, repeatedly warning unconcerned students that they “can’t touch this.”

The production of the video – from writing of the original lyrics by Lee to production of the music video by local film director Jaylen Mitchell of City Vizualz – took around 24 hours.

“I wrote the lyrics in fifteen minutes,” Lee said. “I called Jaylen and he came to the school to record. I had the video by 10 that night.”

Getting volunteers to star in the video wasn’t too difficult. The student actors are Zay Youngblood, Jaden Robinson and Aniyah Oden. Teacher Jessica Veazey also makes a cameo.

“They were nervous at first, but they knew it was gonna be something fun,” Lee said. “Zay said there was a zero percent chance of him dancing. They played their parts to a T. It was just fun to hang out, and they did phenomenal.”

Lee posted the 2 minute 13 second video to his YouTube channel around 2:20 p.m. Tuesday. By Friday, it had been viewed more than 182,000 times. It doesn’t hurt that a popular Alabama television meteorologist shared the video from his Facebook and Twitter accounts.

“Quite frankly, I think we all could use a good laugh and a smile,” James Spann tweeted.

And unlike, well, almost anything on social media, comments about the video have been completely positive.

“I hope the students at this school realize how lucky they are. I’d have loved to have had a principal like this when I was in school. Loved the video!” – Nobody Home

“We didn’t have cool principals when I was in school. He makes you WANT to come to school.” – AlabamaDad

In thanking God for his creativity, Lee said the response to the video has been overwhelming and exactly what he was hoping for.

“I’ve been reconnected to a lot of people from my past – high school and college friends,” he said. “Parents and teachers are so proud. Having conversations with the kids and Ms. Veazey and all the interviews have been fun.

“We are working tirelessly to make sure school is a place where students can be accepted, loved, and clean,” he continued. “Everybody needs love, regardless of political party or ethnic background. If we can allow people to laugh and forget about their problems, then we’ve accomplished the goal.”

Childersburg is part of the Talladega County School system, which has a hybrid plan for returning to school on Aug. 20.

Group A will attend classes on Monday and Tuesday, Lee said. Group B will attend on Thursday and Friday, and the two groups will alternate on Wednesday. When students are not physically at school, they will participate in distance learning.

“Talladega County is a one-to-one system, so students have access to a device that they take home,” he said. “Most students have internet, and we’re looking for resources to help provide internet for the ones that don’t have wifi at home.”

Lee said at least two or three buses in every community route are equipped with wifi, which can also be used by students in the neighborhoods where those buses are parked overnight.

“There’s no perfect plan, but we have to find plans that best meet the needs of the students,” he said. “The superintendents have a tough job, and I applaud their efforts to educate the students and keep everyone safe.”

Lee said he recently held a “Kickin it with Dr. Lee” virtual meeting and dozens of students attended. The purpose was to begin driving home that point that the school will be enforcing all of the health community’s COVID-related guidelines – washing hands, wearing masks, social distancing, etc.

“It will be uncomfortable,” he said, “but I’d rather be doing that than going to a memorial service because we were negligent.”

The video parody helps reinforce that message. Lee said the dance moves were less a matter of learning the choreography and more about recalling muscle memory from copying MC Hammer’s moves in his 1990 hit song and video, “Can’t Touch This.”

“I love to dance, and I remember trying to mimic all his dance routines,” Lee said. “When I went to Alabama A&M, I did the routine at the battle of the bands.” He said many of his student’s weren’t alive when MC Hammer released the song,”so it’s an opportunity for parents and kids to talk and connect.”

Lee said he’s not looking to challenge any other principals to a dance-off, but he does challenge them to do whatever it takes to reach their students.

“Find out where your kids are and meet that need,” he said. “Find some kind of mode to be connected with our kids.”

Lee said his hope is that those who see the video will get a good laugh while also taking to heart the underlying message of protecting themselves and others from the coronavirus.

“We have got to make safety a cool thing,” he said. “If we don’t see the warning signs, we’ll be doomed for destruction.

“By following these guidelines, we could save someone’s life.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

24 hours ago

Alabama Power volunteers throw final birthday party for closing children’s home

Most birthday parties are happy occasions but one held Thursday afternoon in Mobile was mixed with sadness.

Volunteers from the Plant Barry Chapter of the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) held a drive-by birthday parade outside St. Mary’s Home. The parade was organized as a way to safely salute the children before the Archdiocese of Mobile closes the facility later this year.

“I communicated with other volunteers at Plant Barry on how we could do a final birthday celebration considering everything is locked down,” said APSO volunteer Tami Williams. “We brainstormed ideas on what to do and settled on a drive-by celebration.”

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Alabama Power volunteers honor children at St Mary’s Home from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Williams and her husband, Ken, have helped organize monthly birthday parties at the home since the early 1990s. Tami and Ken said they were saddened to halt those parties in March when COVID-19 began to flare, but that sadness pales in comparison to the grief they felt when they learned the home would be closed.

“It’s very emotional for both of us,” Tami said. “We have watched these children grow. We have watched them graduate from high school and move on to be very productive citizens. It’s not even sweet. It’s just bitter.”

St. Mary’s Home was founded in Mobile in 1838 following a yellow fever epidemic. Originally an orphanage, the home evolved into a residential treatment facility for boys and girls rescued by the Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) from abusive homes. The Archdiocese of Mobile, in a press release, said it decided to retire the home at the end of September “in the best interest of the youth it serves.”

“New federal standards under the Family First Act are being phased in over the next two years in Alabama and recommend a trend away from institutions and toward more therapies within the home environment,” the release stated. “DHR will determine the best placement for these youth and will determine where they will be relocated.”
Andy Rehm, director of Volunteer Services at St. Mary’s Home, said she has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love from the community since the announcement, especially from APSO volunteers.

“All the people in the community are coming out showing us love and support,” Rehm said. “It’s gratifying to know there are people that love these kids, that get our mission and get the importance of what they do.”

Rehm, who has coordinated volunteer services at the home for more than 20 years, said many of the children experienced love for the first time after arriving at the home, thanks in part to the monthly birthday parties and other events sponsored by Alabama Power volunteers.

“For several children the Alabama Power Plant Barry birthday party has been their first birthday party, and these are teenagers sometimes,” Rehm said. “It gives them a taste of what a real family and real community is.”

Rehm added that the simple act of repeatedly listening to and caring for the children has left a lasting impression on everyone at the home.

“It’s not just a birthday party,” Rehm said. “Just acknowledging their existence and sitting with them where they are, which is exactly what Jesus did – that’s so important. You don’t have to have a bunch of money or a bunch of time, just give of yourself. A little bit of your presence goes a long way.”

Tami and Ken, who are known by the children as “The Birthday Lady” and “Mr. Alabama Power,” said they hope the parade will bookend years of joyful memories.

“A wave to the kids to let them know we support them and love them,” Ken said. “We do wish them all the best in the world. If there’s anything more in the world we could, we would definitely do it.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)