Alabama Steps Up

I rarely say this: good for Alabama:

Republicans dropped a legislative bombshell tonight as they slammed through a dramatically revamped education bill that will give tax credits for families at “failing schools” to send their children to private school or another public school.

Lawmakers voted mid-day to send a school flexibility bill — that would let school systems seek waivers from some policies — to conference committee. The conference committee reported a dramatically different bill that included the flexibility measures plus what some lawmakers called school vouchers.

Republicans heralded it as a historic day for education and life-altering for children stuck in poorly performing schools. But tempers boiled over as Democrats called the maneuver “sleaziness” and a “bait and switch.”

If the Democrats think this is sleazy, they are apparently unfamiliar with how the sausage is made in a democracy. If they had the numbers, they could have easily voted this down. If they had the governorship, they could veto it. But they have neither, so they are reduced to decrying sleazy tactics and throwing the race card.

Rep. Mary Moore, D-Birmingham, as she was leaving the House chamber threw her hands over her head and shouted, “Welcome to the new confederacy where a bunch of white men are now going to take over black schools.”

Actually, this about removing children, including black ones, from a system that is centrally managed and controlled; about giving the more control of their future not less. The bill includes provisions for corporations and individuals to set up scholarships for kids to escape the failing public schools (Alabama is in the bottom portion of spending per pupil and almost at the bottom in achievement). What we are talking is potential liberation from the Soviet-style education system that places kids in schools based not on ability, need or disposition but location. A system that has created a horrific divide between functional suburban schools and failing city schools.

The fact is that the states are growing desperate. They see ever more money poured into public schools with no results. A game-changer is needed. Is this the magic formula? I have no idea but it’s worth a shot, isn’t it?

As for the sleazy tactics, I would prefer that the Republicans have put this on the table earlier so that proper debate could have been had. Ultimately, the voters will decide on that. But this is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. The unions and their allies have pulled out all the stops in the past — including using children as political shields — to oppose even modest attempts at reform. Last year’s voucher bill went down in flames because of these tactics. I know I should be objective here but I’m finding it hard to fault the Republicans for not giving their opponents enough time to drag some kids down to Montgomery for yet another staged protest.

Comments are closed.