Sen. Del Marsh filed and moved his school choice bill, dubbed the PCA (Parental Choice Act) last week. Unfortunately, the educational powers that be don’t actually believe that parents bear the responsibility for their children’s education, nor do they believe that parents have a right to choose anything beyond the [education establishment's] control.
That was made clear last week with messaging from the education establishment as they denied the fact that tax dollars designated for education should follow the student and questioned the intentions of parents to provide for the education of their own children.
The Executive Director of School Superintendents accused religious schools of teaching radical and divisive ideas.
A member of a local school board who testified in the public hearing asserted that the results of the proposed program would be discriminatory in nature and accused it of being essentially a social welfare program for wealthy parents.
Another education leader asserted that students and schools be required to use the exact same textbooks and curriculum of the state in order to participate.
These folks don’t seem to understand the harsh truth that there are literally thousands of parents and students who are ready to opt out of the structure they have built, in hopes that there is something better.
Instead, education bosses took the opportunity to lecture parents, insult homeschoolers, and imply that religious schools are radicalized. In fact, they demanded additional accountability for those not currently under their control in lieu of acknowledging the public’s desire for educational freedom from their failing system.
Alabama is resting squarely at the bottom of the educational barrel and, despite the cries to the contrary, it’s not from a lack of funding. Federal and state dollars have been pouring into the state at record rates for years. The education budgets are the largest they have ever been in the history of the state. The Education Trust Fund (ETF) has doubled in the past 20 years and now tops $8 billion. Alabama is third in the Southeast in per-pupil expenditures while maintaining last or close to last rankings on every assessment.
In short, the dollars have been adding up while the test scores have been going down. It’s clear to any objective observer that the education establishment is protecting the ETF rather than the students that the fund was established to serve.
In Senate committee, an amendment was added to require students and schools who opt into the program to take or administer state standardized tests. Why would parents readily submit to testing requirements for a curriculum that mirrors the failing system they’re seeking to escape?
Quotes from the “edu-crats” and union bosses included veiled threats toward educational freedoms of homeschoolers and assertions that if parents were going to get state funds for their children (where do they think these state funds come from and who do they think they’re for?), then the state was entitled to control the entire process.
Note: there are always strings attached.
In addition to the state-controlled annual testing, State Superintendent Eric Mackey demanded a state registry of all students, including homeschoolers; a state registry of the curriculum the students would be following; and floated the idea of state officials monitoring parents and students in their own homes.
He further demanded that private schools be brought under some sort of state authority for documentation, monitoring & accreditation.
As a bonus, Mackey would also like the ability to decide what types of students private schools may accept and that the whole program be under the authority of the State Department of Education.
Wait - doesn’t that negate the entire point of the bill? Wasn’t this bill supposed to expand the choices of parents and expand opportunities for students? This looks like an intentional power grab to me.
This doesn’t look like a choice anyone in their right mind would want to take.
Stephanie Holden Smith is an experienced policy analyst, political commentator, and public speaker. Smith has worked and volunteered in Governmental Affairs in Alabama since 1997, including lobbying for a Fortune 500 company and serving as Deputy Director of Finance for the State of Alabama. She is currently the principal of Thatcher Coalition LLC. To contact Stephanie, please go to http://thatchercoalition.com.