Lawmakers deceive public in school law

Republicans in the state Legislature embarrassed themselves Thursday with the covert passage of a law that funnels tax dollars from public schools to private ones.

When Republicans came to power in the Legislature in 2010, they did so with an excellent sales pitch.

For 136 years, Democrats had controlled state government. With rare exceptions, they did a horrible job of it. They enacted laws without public input. They catered to contributors instead of constituents.

This history of abuse would change, GOP candidates promised in 2010, if they were elected. They would govern with transparency.

What voters learned Thursday was that party labels mean nothing. The reign of deceitful politics is inevitable, at least when one party has complete control of the Legislature.

The game GOP legislators played leading up to Thursday would have made the old Democratic Party bosses proud.

Most Alabamians, while not opposed to charter schools, are opposed to unrestrained transfers of tax dollars to private companies and their shareholders. They communicated their concerns to legislators in 2012, who backed down on a one-sided bill that would have enriched corporations and damaged public schools.

Again and again since, Gov. Robert Bentley and legislators promised they would not try a similar experiment in 2013. Instead, they would push a Local Control Flexibility Act that gave public schools more leeway in tailoring their instruction to the needs of their students. They happily agreed to amendments to placate advocates of public schools.

It was all a sham.

Even as they negotiated over the terms of the nine-page flexibility bill, they had a 27-page bill hidden away.

In a low-key conference committee meeting Thursday, supposedly to resolve minor differences between the House and Senate versions of the flexibility bill, legislators unveiled the radically different Alabama Accountability Act. Within minutes, it passed both houses.

Delighted legislators tweeted links to a website with a thorough summary of a bill that, an hour before, was hidden from public view.

It is a lousy law. It’s not lousy because it gives tax dollars to for-profit educational companies, a practice that has worked in some states. It is a bad law because the effort to hide it from the public, from lawmakers and from school officials meant legislators received no constructive advice on its failings.

The law will result in a further decline in struggling schools. All public schools will suffer because of the dramatic drop in already low state funding.

The main beneficiaries of the Legislature’s back-room coup may turn out to be the private corporations who now can profit from taxpayer dollars and wealthy Alabamians who will enjoy lucrative tax credits by contributing to poorly regulated scholarship funds.

“Transparency in government” is not just a catchphrase. It is a process that improves legislation. In this case, it is a process that might have prevented a devastating financial blow to public schools.

On Thursday, the GOP made clear it is just as deceitful in governance as were its Democratic predecessors.

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Filed under Alabama politics, education

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