It’s about time! It’s such a refreshing change to see real, tangible outcomes of a program that has the potential to improve education in ways never imagined. The Alabama Accountability Act (AAA) is heavy on solutions and light on rhetoric as demonstrated by the powerful and encouraging numbers recently released by the Department of Revenue. At this rate, Alabama could soon serve as an example for states across the country on how to help poor families who are profoundly limited in educational options.
Pastor David Craig is Senior Pastor of Mt. Pilgrim Christian Academy in Fairfield, which is one of more than 170 schools across the state taking scholarship students through the AAA. He says this law is a game changer.
“You can go through a number of our neighborhoods in the middle of the day and see men that should be in school are standing on a corner aimlessly and seem to have no direction. Many are dropping out of school and they are put in perpetual poverty. They are always going to be on the books of the government. If we want them to contribute then we ought to see about them getting an education.”
What Pastor Craig sees as a solution may seem simple, but it’s the ‘getting there’ that’s tough.
Bi-partisan support for the AAA is growing as demonstrated in the recent legislative session. With no Democratic support initially, 19 Democrats voted for expansion of the law in 2015. It’s a natural transition considering the growing number of parents benefiting from the law are the constituents of many lawmakers who initially opposed it.
Pastor Craig thinks it’s about time opponents to the AAA start taking off blinders and realize that it’s a life-changing opportunity for these kids: “I’m a Democrat and I’ve voted Democrat most of my life. I’m for the Alabama Accountability Act because it gives low income parents that choice.”
The Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund awarded 2,800 students statewide for the 2014-2015 school year. When you look at the overall numbers from all Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGO) released by the Department of Revenue, it shows 4,600 children statewide received scholarship dollars to attend a school they believe will better prepare them for the future. Some 1,700 students would have gone to a “failing” public school. But the untold story behind the numbers is that in every one of those cases and for the thousands more who applied, every parent is desperate for something better for their child. They tell us the kids are not learning where they are. They are either bullied, ignored or are simply not getting the instruction equal to their grade level. In some cases, that particular school is either too big, or too small. It just doesn’t fit.
The amended provisions signed into law by Governor Bentley this past session expanding the AAA from $25 million to $30 million will go a long way in supporting parents who are choosing to take control of their child’s education.
“Let’s give parents a chance to put their children in schools that will best serve them and provide the funding so they can get there,” says Pastor Craig.
Talk to a scholarship parent and educators from a participating school and find out their stories. Get beyond the rhetoric and get to the facts. More and more parents are taking control of their children’s education in Alabama. This opportunity could break a cycle of poverty and helplessness that has plagued many of our communities for decades. Parents are demonstrating that they will not give up until they find the path to success. It’s a path for every one of us whether we are on the giving or receiving end. Improving education for everyone improves conditions for all.
Sonya DiCarlo is the director of communications for the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund. For other perspectives on the Alabama Accountability Act, see here.