State Superintendent of Education Eric Mackey says the “failing school” designation of the Alabama Accountability Act is “designed to humiliate schools and to cause frustration and problems in high-poverty communities” as a bill to eliminate the term clears committee in the legislature.

The bill, sponsored by State Rep. A.J. McCampbell (D-Demopolis), to change Alabama's "failing school" definition, which critics believe harms students and staff.

At a Thursday work session of the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE), Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) and Senate Pro Tem. Greg Reed (R-Jasper) addressed the board and discussed multiple issues within Alabama’s schools.

Singleton said many "failing schools" are in more impoverished areas.

"If you follow the poverty map across the state, that's where the failing schools are, and I don't like that,' Singleton said. "My children are smart. They have the ability to do, but they can't do it without the flexibility that's needed."

Reed said he thinks the "failing" designation and performance reporting "is not really accurate in describing what's going in in these schools."

Mackey later echoed Singleton's issues by referring to lower-performing schools as "failing," claiming the designation was "designed to humiliate schools."

"[O]ne thing they can do is just shift that language and do away with this bottom 6% that was designed to humiliate schools," Mackey said. "It was designed to humiliate schools and to cause frustration and problems in high-poverty communities so it can be used as an excuse to fund scholarships."

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.

McCampbell's legislation seeks to address how schools are graded and the designation they receive. 

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 one bill, House Bill 30 (HB30).

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

An amendment was offered in committee to remove the A through F grading system used as part of the AAA.

HB30 unanimously passed committee and will now go to the floor for a vote.

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