It has always been awful. It will always be awful. It was so awful that Republicans had to break the law to pass it, and they’ve been forced to amend it multiple times to make it small measures of less awful. It is so awful still, though, that even Republicans in the State House have balked at dumping more money into it.
It. Is. Awful.
I say this now because five years after its late-night, illegal passage, it seems some state school boards -- two so far -- have finally recognized the awfulness of this awful tax money giveaway and have passed resolutions calling for the end of the program.
To answer that, the wealthy people benefitting from the AAA -- the deep pockets behind the “scholarship granting organizations” that serve as a pass-thru for corporate donations going to private schools -- are mounting a defense of the program. And some in the media seem to be all too willing to fall for the smoke and mirrors presented.
There have been glowing articles written recently about the AAA and its supposed positive impacts on school children. Hearing the tales of the AAA plucking poor students from “failing schools” and giving their parents hope for a better life, you might come to think that Alabama GOP politicians care at all about educating the poor.
They do not.
In reality, the AAA is a tax giveaway to private schools. And a tax giveaway to parents who could already afford to send their kids to private schools. And a transfer program for students who weren’t in a “failing school” to begin with.
We know these things because the data tell us so.
The majority of AAA scholarship recipients are not zoned for failing schools. A large number of AAA scholarship recipients and the majority of the parents taking the tax break already had their kids in private schools.
These things are true. But they’re not what makes the AAA truly awful.
Here is what makes it awful: Only children with the means to transfer to another school are eligible to transfer to a non-failing or private school -- meaning there’s mechanism in the act to provide transportation costs or other associated fees -- and even the “non-failing” public schools do not have to accept transfers.
That means that the AAA does not reach the poorest of the children who are stuck in under-funded public schools in mostly poor, minority-dominated neighborhoods. Instead, it provides children with means with a cheaper way out, and it allows white people who might move into a historic neighborhood -- like, say, Cloverdale in Montgomery -- to get a tax break for sending their kids to a private school -- a private school that may or may not be accredited and one that most certainly does not have adhere to the same strenuous measures as public schools.
The AAA does nothing to actually address the problems that lead to a “failing school,” but instead does the one thing that hurts those schools the most -- it removes funding.
Anyone who wanted to actually provide a pathway for desperate, poverty-stricken kids who are stuck in public schools that continue to fail them would have done at least one of two things: They would have made accepting transfer students from these schools mandatory and provided transportation, and/or they would have set up the scholarship system to fund PUBLIC schools.
There’s absolutely nothing in Alabama’s laws that prevents a private entity from donating to a public school. And there is no reason that the AAA couldn’t be an exclusively public school program, offering these corporations the chance to get tax breaks for funding public education better.
That would have benefitted not only the student transfers but all the other public school students, including the poor black ones.
But then, that’s sort of the point, isn’t it? To provide a secret pathway for kids, both black and white, to escape their poverty-stricken classmates who keep dragging down the overall test scores, because their homes lack Wifi and mom is working a second job to keep the lights on and can’t afford a tutor.
Instead of giving those kids a desperately needed break, the AAA left them to sink in an under-funded school that is now missing its best students and most involved parents. And it gave those involved parents a tax break to leave them behind.
So, no matter the fluff and nonsense you might be fed about the AAA, never forget the most important thing about it.
It is awful.