If those charged with implementing a law are so disturbed by the damage it will do to the state that they are struggling with the moral dilemma of whether to follow it, it’s probably a bad law.
Such is the case with the Alabama Accountability Act.
Those with the greatest understanding of how the “school choice” law will affect the state are straining to figure out a way to evade it.
The law requires state Superintendent Tommy Bice to come up with a list of “failing schools.”
The Accountability Act — passed deceptively and with no input from educators — gives Bice no discretion in coming up with the list.
The law requires any school that has been in the bottom 6 percent of the state on standardized test scores in any three of the last six years to be labeled “failing.” Students in these schools have the right to transfer to private schools, which will then be subsidized with tax dollars drained from the public school system.
State Board of Education policies demanding — and facilitating — school improvement in recent years mean that many struggling schools have made major advances in the last six years. Consider an extreme hypothetical: If a school was in the bottom 1 percent six years ago, climbed to the bottom 4 percent five years ago and then to the bottom 6 percent three years ago, it must be labeled a failing school. That’s true even if, thanks to aggressive reforms, it was in the top 10 percent in each of the last three years.
That’s an unlikely hypothetical because a school’s test scores have less to do with teaching than with the poverty of its students. But less extreme versions of the hypothetical are common. By shunning advice from Bice and other educators, legislators steamrolled over remarkably effective, ongoing reforms.
Bice originally planned to release his version of the “failing school” list on Saturday. After seeing a preview, the power brokers in Montgomery were furious. Their pushback forced Bice to delay release of the list until Tuesday.
He is faced with an untenable choice for an education expert whose first priority is helping students succeed. Does he follow the legal mandate and tattoo “failing” on schools that have made great strides? Or does he continue his successful plan, which requires improvement but provides the resources and expertise necessary for reform?
On Tuesday, the state will learn his decision. In an act of civil obedience, he may refuse to follow a terrible law. Or he may decide that he can better protect the students of the state from the Legislature by keeping his job.
The Revenue Department is faced with a related moral dilemma. The governor claims the law does not grant tax credits for families of students already enrolled in private schools.
The issue is important, because such families will drain more than $20 million from public schools. They will do so with absolutely no benefit to the claimed goal of “school choice,” because they not only had a choice but already exercised it.
The problem for the Revenue Department is that the law does not support Bentley’s interpretation.
Like Bice, the Revenue Department has to decide whether to thwart a bad law or follow its mandate.
Legislators should be embarrassed at the crisis they have created for officials who want the best for the state.