A bill to change Alabama's "failing school" designation has unanimously passed the Alabama House of Representatives.

House Bill 30 (HB30), sponsored by State Rep. A.J. McCampbell (D-Demopolis), removes current language from Alabama law that labels schools as "failing" and "nonfailing."

The Alabama Accountability Act (AAA) of 2013 requires the Alabama State Department of Education to list schools as "failing" if they fall in the worst 6% of all public schools in scholastic achievement.

The "failing" school definition is required since the AAA provides tax credit-funded scholarships for families desiring to leave the lowest-performing schools.

The AAA provided educational tax credits and allowed parents of students in the worst-performing schools to receive a tax credit to offset the cost of sending a student to a nonfailing public or nonpublic school.

The income tax credit a parent receives will equal 80% of the average annual state cost of attendance for a public K-12 student during the applicable tax year or the actual cost of attending a nonfailing public or nonpublic school, whichever is less.

Since the AAA passed, the state has had a long-standing debate about changing the terminology used to describe underperforming schools. Critics of the language believe it hurts students and families attending "failing" schools and makes hiring quality teachers and principals harder.

McCampell told 1819 News that his original bill, House Bill 218, changed the terminology to "Fully supported and non-fully supported" schools. A designation that some members took issue with for various reasons. McCampbell then focused on HB30.

HB30 would revert to using the simple technical designation of "lowest 6%" and "highest 94%" school when evaluating performance.

"It is a opportunity for us to give a positive spin," McCampbell said. "And, in terms of actually growing business in Alabama, whenever someone is standing off in wherever we go to recruit, and they see that term 'failing,' it's a defeatist term. So we need to do better in Alabama, and that's what this bill will do. "

Many House Democrats used discussion time on the floor to both support the bill and call for further funding for the lower-performing schools. No Republican lawmakers opposed the bill from the House floor, and it passed unanimously with a vote of 103-0.

Former State Sen. Dick Brewbaker told 1819 News that total support for the bill indicates a lack of conservatism within the Republican supermajority.

"I think it shows who is funding campaigns makes a difference," Brewbaker said. "I mean, you've got a Republican supermajority who is apparently unanimously against telling parents the actual truth about the schools their children are attending."

"The reason for the failing school definition is we had schools that were failing kids generationally. And parents were complaining that they were having a hard time getting clear, unambiguous information from the State Department of Education about the conditions of the schools that their children were in. So the legislature responded by coming up with terms that were unambiguous."

He continued, "I've never seen a Republican caucus this tame," Brewbaker continued. "And I'm sorry, but that's the only word for it. I mean, I served in the legislature a long time, and if you've got bill after bill after bill that's going through unanimously, and no one is questioning anything, what you've got is a group of people that have stopped thinking."

To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email craig.monger@1819news.com.

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