House Minority Leader Craig Ford (D-Gadsden) called on state leaders to reallocate the $40 million budgeted for tax credits provided by the Accountability Act to instead be used to expand the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative, commonly known as the AMSTI program.
“The Accountability Act has clearly failed,” said Ford at a Sept. 12 press conference in Montgomery. “It’s time to hold the Republican Supermajority accountable on the Accountability Act.”
Republican leaders claimed the Accountability Act would give kids “trapped in failing public schools” a choice in where they go to school by allowing them to transfer to a non-failing public school or by receiving a $3,500 tax credit to transfer to a private school.
However, only 52 children have transferred to a private school under the Accountability Act, and only 59 of the state’s 393 private schools, or 15 percent of private schools, have agreed to accept students from failing schools, according to the Department of Revenue. Public schools also have the option to refuse to admit a student from a failing school.
Kids in a failing school could already transfer to a non-failing public school under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Last year, nearly 1,800 students transferred out of failing public schools under No Child Left Behind, more than twice the 719 students who transferred this year under the Accountability Act.
“The Accountability Act isn’t giving kids any options they didn’t already have,” said Ford. “In fact, kids now have fewer options.”
At a cost of $3,500 per student, the state is expected to pay $182,000 in tax credits to the families of the 52 kids that transferred to private schools, leaving more than $39.8 million left over that had been budgeted for the tax credits.
“Every school in the state lost money when Republican leaders budgeted that $40 million for the Accountability Act,” said Ford.
“So let’s use that money for its intended purpose – to improve the quality of public education in every Alabama school.”
Ford’s proposal would shift the remaining funds set aside for the Accountability Act into the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative with the goal of expanding the AMSTI program to every public school in the state within the next four years.
AMSTI founder and director Steve Ricks recently stated in an interview with al.com that increasing funding for AMSTI up to $38 million next year and $46 million over the following three years would allow the state to expand the program to every public school in Alabama. At the end of the four years, the state could begin reducing funding while still enrolling every school in the program.
“AMSTI is proven to work,” said Ford. “It has improved test scores in every subject, not just in math and science. Governor Bentley has said he supports increasing funding for AMSTI. We all know it works. So let’s invest our money in real education reform.”
Ford said that the total cost of expanding AMSTI would be $176 million over the next four years. If we continue our current allocation of $28 million for the next four years and apply the $40 million from the Accountability Act, we would only need an additional $24 million to fully expand AMSTI. If we repeal the Accountability Act, we can allocate that $24 million from what would have been set aside for the Accountability Act’s tax credits.
“Let’s stop trying to reinvent the wheel,” said Ford. “We know what works. It’s time to stop gambling on the Accountability Act and invest our money in the programs that we know improve education.”