Boards representing three of the state’s largest public school systems – Mobile, Baldwin and Montgomery counties – recently passed resolutions calling for a repeal of Alabama’s landmark tax credit scholarships for low-income families.

They claim that the small yet popular program created in 2013 by the Alabama Accountability Act has “caused harm to the financial wellbeing” of their cash-strapped systems.

But is this accurate?

Truth is, Alabama is now collecting more money to educate fewer students. Overall, the statewide education budget has grown since the scholarships were first offered. Meanwhile, enrollment has steadily decreased over the past five years, reports Al.com.

Of these three systems in particular, each have received significant funding increases while two saw decreases in the number of students they served.

According to an analysis of state budget data performed by Ryan Cantrell, a school choice advocate who helped craft the scholarship program:

— Mobile’s share of state funding increased by nearly 8 percent since 2014 while its enrollment shrank by 6 percent from last year.

— Montgomery’s funding has increased by 5 percent while its overall student population decreased by more than 7 percent.

— And Baldwin’s share of state education dollars increased by a whopping 22.5 percent.

Even a rural system like Tallapoosa County, whose board also called for the scholarships to be repealed, has seen its funding grow by 7 percent while its enrollment shrank by nearly 4 percent since 2013, according to Warren Callaway, executive director of Scholarships For Kids.

As for the scholarships? The program represents only one-half of one percent of the state’s multi-billion-dollar education trust fund, which we just learned grew by $428 million, or nearly 7 percent, over last year, according to Al.com.

Still, some school system officials claim that keeping 99.5 percent of an ever-growing budget for business as usual isn’t enough.

They want it all.

“We’re tight. Things are short,” said Montgomery Public School Board member Melissa Snowden in a WSFA report. “You know we have a lot of needs and so every bit counts.”

We’ve heard from the school boards, but what do parents and students think of the scholarships?

Ask Mobile County resident and mother-of-five Alleane West.

“It was a relief that nobody would understand,” West said in an Alabama Opportunity Scholarship video about the program’s impact on her family. “You know, you’re a single mom with boys trying to not make them a statistic.”

West’s oldest son, Nick, used the scholarship to attend McGill-Toolen High School where his classmates named him “Most Likely to Succeed.” He earned a 32 on his ACT and a full scholarship to the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

“It is hard when you are a parent trying to raise men, and to keep them away as much as possible from what is really out there,” West said.

Ask a Montgomery County parent.

“When my son Carlos was in the fifth grade, he was constantly bullied and I wanted to desperately put him into a private school,” wrote Nyenya Webster in Alabama Daily News, adding that the scholarship “has been a lifesaver for my son.”

“He graduates in two years and is now considering college,” she said. “My son never talked about going to college before …”

And ask a parent in Baldwin County, where you’ll find no failing schools and relatively few scholarship recipients, but where bullying is still a painful reality like anywhere else.

“To witness what this opportunity has done for my son emotionally, has been the best experience I could have as a parent,” said Lauren Hunter, who pursued a scholarship when she learned what her son was enduring at his old school. She said he feels “safe” and has flourished in Catholic school.

Despite the successes that families have experienced, David Tarwater, who offered the resolution shortly before his term recently ended on the Baldwin County Board of Education, believes the program is “stealing money” from students.

“There’s no way to fix it,” he said in a Lagniappe article. “We’re asking for this thing to die and to die a quick death.”

But if this program dies, so may the dreams of thousands of low-income Alabamians who seek nothing more than to put their children in the best learning environment possible – a choice that higher incomes families have always had.

Remember the parable Nathan told King David? A rich man had a great many sheep, yet took a poor man’s only beloved lamb to feed a visitor.

Ask yourself: since Alabama public education gets the overwhelming lion’s share of a growing state budget, and low-income scholarship recipients get only one half of one percent … who is who in the parable?

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is a senior fellow at the Alabama Policy Institute. Contact her at rachel@alabamapolicy.org.


MORE ON API in the Editorials

Has the Magic City Become the Tragic City?

Leadership matters. The tone and tenor of a policy are often the reflection of the leader who presided over the period in which that policy took effect. And leadership matters the most, becomes most visible, and is looked to by others more often when crisis looms. Noted author and lecturer Victor Davis Hanson said that […]

The Need for Education Reform Didn’t Die with the Defeat of Amendment One

When voters defeat a proposed state amendment, it is often thought that the matter is put to rest. That is often the case, but when Alabama’s voters went to the polls in March and shot down a proposal to replace the elected state board of education in favor of one appointed by the governor, they […]

Balancing Rights and Love of Neighbor

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey has announced that our state is moving into an initial phase of economic recovery, known as “Safer at Home.” It relaxes restrictions on many businesses while keeping others, like restaurants, heavily limited for now. The hope is that all businesses will be allowed to resume a modified type of operation shortly. […]

MORE ON Education

API President’s Statement Opposing Governor’s “Masks in Class” Mandate

Birmingham, Ala. – Today (July 29, 2020), Alabama Policy Institute President Caleb Crosby released the following statement in response to Governor Kay Ivey’s amended “Safer at Home Order” that purports to require masks in Alabama classrooms. “Governor Ivey’s ‘masks in class’ order goes too far, is unenforceable, and burdensome to the students and teachers of our […]

To Educate Our Children

Children often bear the worst of our challenges, and our disagreements. When Alabama public schools shut down in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, we saw (again) that the promise of education is not equally available to all young people. Many government-run school administrators were unable to deliver education to the children within their districts. At […]

The Need for Education Reform Didn’t Die with the Defeat of Amendment One

When voters defeat a proposed state amendment, it is often thought that the matter is put to rest. That is often the case, but when Alabama’s voters went to the polls in March and shot down a proposal to replace the elected state board of education in favor of one appointed by the governor, they […]

MORE ON Family

MOBILE RADIO: Supreme Court Redefines “Sex”

API director of policy analysis Parker Snider recently appeared on Mobile Radio to discuss the Supreme Court’s recent redefinition of “sex” to include gender identity and sexual orientation through its ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia. You can listen to the interview here beginning at the 44:35 timestamp. LA Catholic Mornings, Archangel Radio Mobile […]

Philosopher Kings on the Supreme Court Usurp Congress and the People. Again.

According to ancient Greek philosopher Plato, it is the great thinkers, or philosophers, who are best suited to govern society. Dubbed “philosopher kings” they use wisdom, Plato says, to determine how society should operate. Ours is not a country governed by philosopher kings. The Founding Fathers, instead, predicated our government as one of the people. […]

Balancing Rights and Love of Neighbor

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey has announced that our state is moving into an initial phase of economic recovery, known as “Safer at Home.” It relaxes restrictions on many businesses while keeping others, like restaurants, heavily limited for now. The hope is that all businesses will be allowed to resume a modified type of operation shortly. […]

MORE FROM Rachel Blackmon Bryars

Alabama Epstein? It happens here all the time

As the nation learns more about the salacious life and mysterious death of billionaire and serial sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein, it’s important to remember his crimes are far from uncommon. In fact, they happen all the time. Even in Alabama. It’s a problem that experts agree is growing, though exact numbers are difficult to quantify, […]

MOBILE RADIO: How does ‘school choice’ = ‘tax choice’ in Alabama?

API Sr. Fellow Rachel Blackmon Bryars appeared on Mobile’s 1410 AM 94.5 FM LA Catholic Morning radio show to discuss how Alabamians can help low-income students who are stuck in low-performing schools by redirecting some of their income tax liability to a program that funds scholarships. It costs nothing but a few minutes and is […]

Rachel Bryars: ‘School Choice’ = ‘Tax Choice’ in Alabama

It’s back-to-school season and for some parents, this is a happy time. But for those whose children are stuck in underperforming schools, or schools where they are bullied or are in danger, this is a heartbreaking time, especially if they cannot afford to move or go to private school. “There was fighting every day. People […]