CRAIG FORD OP-ED: Alabama Policy Institute’s Four Lies About “School Choice”

Craig Ford

In a recent editorial, the Alabama Policy Institute (API) attempted to label four of the arguments against “school choice” as myths.

I guess that’s what you have to do when the truth doesn’t fit your agenda. But the truth does need to be told, and the misinformation coming from the API needs to be corrected.

The first lie that API has been pushing really hard is that charter schools and the taxpayer-funded scholarship program are not taking money out of public schools. They attempt to validate this bogus argument by pointing out that funding for public education has increased over the last couple of years.

The truth is that public school funding increased because the economy got better and the state started collecting more sales taxes and other taxes.

But school funding would have increased even more if other tax dollars hadn’t been redirected out of public schools to pay for charter schools and the taxpayer-funded private school scholarship program.

The scholarship program alone will cost our public schools up to $30 million a year, and has already taken nearly $150 million out of our schools since it became law.

The second lie that the API has told is that schools that don’t lose students don’t lose money.

It is true that money follows the student, and that if a student transfers out of a school then that specific school will lose a portion of its budget (approximately $9,500 per student).

But what the API isn’t telling you is that the money that is being redirected out of the education budget to pay for the taxpayer-funded scholarship program comes off the top of the education budget.

So that $30 million dollars that’s coming out of the budget every year to pay for these scholarships reduce the overall education budget, not just a particular school’s budget. That means that all schools – including the high-performing schools and the schools that aren’t losing students – are losing money because there’s that much less money in the overall education budget. But the schools that lose students are losing more money than the schools that don’t lose students.

The third lie being pushed by API is that students who have participated in the school choice programs are improving academically.

The truth is that a study conducted by the University of Alabama’s Institute for Social Science Research – and, ironically enough, paid for by the very scholarship granting organizations that run the taxpayer-funded scholarship program – proved those scholarship students did not perform any better on standardized tests than students in regular public schools.

The API attempted to spin the study’s results by claiming that low-income scholarship students performed better than low-income students in regular public schools. But what API chose not to tell you was that the study did not actually compare the scholarship students’ scores to the scores from other kids in the schools where the scholarship student was actually zoned.

So API is trying to compare apples and oranges by comparing low-income students from, for example, Auburn City Schools (which received an “A” on the state’s report card) to low-income students from Birmingham City Schools Schools (which received a “D”) and present it as if the students from those very different school systems were all the same.

Here is what the study actually said in the authors’ own words:

“On average, over time, participating in the scholarship program was not associated with significant improvement on standardized test scores…The overall lack of change over time follows the same pattern seen in public school students in Alabama and is likely not attributable to participation in the scholarship program.”

In other words, overall there’s not a bit of difference in the test scores between kids who participated in the taxpayer-funded scholarship program and those who didn’t.

The fourth and final lie coming from API is that only kids from failing schools are allowed to receive taxpayer-funded scholarships.

In this case, after originally labeling this truth as a “myth” the API actually admitted that many – if not most – of the taxpayer-funded scholarships go to kids who aren’t in what the state defines as a “failing school.”

The Alabama Policy Institute and other “school choice” advocates are certainly entitled to their own opinions. But they are not entitled to their own facts. And the fact that they can’t sell their agenda without telling lies and misrepresenting the truth should be a huge red flag.

So how about, instead of giving up on struggling schools, we try to fix them?

Craig Ford is the owner of Hodges-Ford Insurance and the Gadsden Messenger. He represented Gadsden and Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives for 18 years.

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