New day in Alabama education

Published 7:41 am Sunday, March 10, 2013

By Renee Gentle Powers

As a retired public school educator and a conservative Republican, I joined many others celebrating the victory of the Alabama Legislature passing the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013.

Educational justice prevailed as Republican leadership masterminded and executed one of the most dramatic political maneuvers in state history. The legislation was designed by our state Legislature to prioritize the interest of our children—giving them access to a quality school and to alleviate some of the bureaucratic barriers to help make our local school systems run more efficiently.

It was the first time legislation was done with no involvement, no approval or focus on the special interest union. The powerful entrenched educational union, Alabama Education Association, had been defeated and Alabamians finally had the education reform they have been seeking for decades.

The succeeding schools will not be impacted, but finally something was done to address the problem of failing schools. The lowest performing schools in our state will have no choice but to improve. The chronically failing schools where hopeless parents and students have never really had an option to escape and find a better school will now have an option. Local school systems can appeal to the state Board of Education for relief from burdensome rules and regulations that stifle innovations and hinder the ability to attempt new methods of teaching.

Our courageous Republican legislators with the support of Gov. Robert Bentley are demanding better for our students. Although the education establishment wants flexibility, they never were willing to make the hard changes required to solve failing schools issues. Using fundamental conservative ideas and proven business practices, this act will make meaningful, long-lasting improvements to an education system that has been begging for reform.

The Alabama Accountability Act will:

•Allow for flexibility contracts between the state Board of Education and local school districts. The local superintendent and school board are given an opportunity to implement reforms and innovations that are needed to improve education for their students.

•Create tax credits for families with students in a chronically failing school to attend a nonpublic school or non-failing public school. Parents will have the ability to make the decision on how to best educate their children.

•Create a tax credit for businesses who donate to a nonprofit “Scholarship Granting Organization” that will fund scholarships for students to attend a nonpublic school or non-failing public school. Low income students will have an opportunity to attend a school that isn’t failing.

The top priority of securing a better education and a brighter future for all Alabama’s children has begun. Sen. Del Marsh, Rep. Mike Hubbard, Bentley and our Republican legislators have achieved the unbelievable, and I applaud them for their efforts.

Especially concerning and unprecedented is that the desperate and powerful AEA has involved the judicial branch in the legislative process before the bill is signed by filing a lawsuit. Circuit Judge Charles Price has issued a temporary restraining order preventing Bentley from signing the bill. I hope the Supreme Court does the right thing: overrules and sends it on to the governor to let him sign it. Today is a turning point in Alabama education, and may God bless our valiant elected leadership’s efforts to serve our children.

Renee Gentle Powers is a former school teacher and serves on the state and local Republican party executive committees.