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Alabama Challenges the Status Quo

March 06, 2013 posted by Pam Witmer

In a stunning example of how political will trumps protecting the status quo, Alabama legislators rejected business as usual by passing HB 84. This legislation shifts the balance of power away from the state's education bureaucracy to teachers, principals, and parents.

This monumental bill will give local school systems the opportunity to apply for flexibility from burdensome state laws and overly bureaucratic rules, allowing school leaders to better meet the unique needs of their students.

This legislation also gives parents of children trapped in low-performing schools better options so that their children can have access to a better education. Specifically, the bill creates two methods of school choice for students attending low-performing public schools:

  • Family income tax credits will allow parents to transfer their students to a private school or public school of their choice;
  • Tax credit scholarships will be granted to additional students to attend any qualifying public or private school, with a portion of the available scholarships set-aside specifically for low-income students.

Alabama parents never had these kinds of school options before. As Governor Bentley stated, this truly is "historic education reform that will benefit students and families across the state."

While this legislation is a strong step forward to improving Alabama's schools and indeed something to celebrate, Alabama legislators must continue to stand up for what is best for the state’s students by working to ensure that every child has access to a high-quality school and an effective teacher.

As the state continues to provide more school choices, policymakers must ensure participating schools are held accountable for student success.

State lawmakers will have another opportunity this legislative session to do the right thing by approving legislation that requires teacher layoffs be based on teacher performance rather than seniority alone. Staffing decisions that prioritize a teacher's impact on student learning, rather than quality-blind seniority, will keep the best teachers in the classroom working tirelessly to put their students on a better life trajectory. Alabama has more work to do in making its education policies student-centered, so let's keep the momentum going.

Pam Witmer is the StudentsFirst legislative analyst for Alabama.