The complete secrecy that surrounded passage of the Alabama Accountability Act has been replaced by the harsh transparency of the budget.
The budget shows the law is a sham that will hurt, not benefit, children in failing schools.
In the weeks since the legislative shenanigans that gave birth to the hidden law, its purposes necessarily were a matter of conjecture. Now that legislators have been forced to assign budgetary numbers to the law, its purpose is clear.
On Tuesday, the chairman of the House budget committee estimated the school tax credit program would cost the Education Trust Fund between $50 million and $60 million. That’s plenty damaging to a fund that has dropped 22 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars since 2008, the greatest drop of any state but one. Still, though, it is far less than the hundreds of millions predicted by Alabama Education Association.
So how did the chairman, state Rep. Jay Love, R-Montgomery, come up with his numbers?
One of the oddities of Alabama’s tax credit law is that it does not just provide $3,500 tax credits to children enrolled in failing schools. It also provides the credits to families of children zoned in a failing school, even if they always have attended private schools. They receive this credit regardless of their income.
Love began his calculations here. He estimated 25 percent of Alabama’s 61,000 private school students — 15,250 — are assigned to failing schools and thus will receive a $3,500 tax credit in 2014.
This initial step in Love’s calculations is a remarkable admission. He is calculating a budget in which $53.4 million of a total cost of between $50 million and $60 million provides no benefit whatsoever to students in failing schools.
Proponents defended their secrecy in passing the law by labeling it a transformational opportunity for students stuck in failing schools, but their own budget numbers confirm the only beneficiaries are those who do not even attend failing schools.
It’s possible Love’s estimate is wrong, but data increasingly suggests that few poor families will have either the resources or the options to transfer their students to a private school.
What the estimate makes clear, however, is the underlying purpose of a law that legislators correctly suspected could not survive open debate.
Love’s numbers don’t lie. He expects the benefit from the Alabama Accountability Act to be a purely financial one for those students already attending private schools. This law is not about benefiting failing schools, it is about providing a tax credit for those who already attend private schools.
Who will pay for this unexpected largesse? Public schools and the children they serve.