AEA: Accountability Act to cost local schools nearly $1M
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Aug 19, 2013 | 3960 views |  0 comments | 56 56 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MONTGOMERY --- Alabama's new tax credit for private school students will cost Calhoun County's five school systems nearly $1 million in 2014-- whether parents take the tax credit or not -- the Alabama Education Association claims.

Supporters of the tax credit dispute the claim, and one local school administrator says it's impossible to tell whether the number is accurate.

The AEA, Alabama's largest professional organization for teachers, released on Monday a district-by-district analysis of the effects of the Alabama Accountability Act on school finances.

The Accountability Act, passed earlier this year, offers a tax credit of about $3,500 to parents of children in "failing" public schools who move their children to private schools. Anniston Middle School is among the 78 schools on the "failing" schools list released by the Alabama Department of Education this summer.

Critics of the tax credit plan have long maintained that it would fund private schools at the expense of public schools. State income taxes go into the Education Trust Fund budget, which pays for schools. Lawmakers trimmed the education budget by $40 million for 2014 to offset the potential cost of the tax credits.

School in many Alabama districts started this week, and there's no indication that any family in Calhoun County is taking the tax credit. Still, AEA officials say local schools will pay a price for the act whether the tax credit is used or not.

"They had a number, and after the Accountability Act was passed, they subtracted $40 million from it," AEA spokeswoman Amy Marlowe said. "That's $40 million schools won't have."

The AEA's analysis predicted a loss of about $977,000 in Calhoun County's school systems in 2014. That includes:

• $497,980 for Calhoun County Schools

• $109,667 for Anniston City Schools

• $82,351 for Jacksonville City Schools

• $64,678 for Piedmont City Schools

• $222,133 for Oxford City Schools

The AEA analysis appears to be based on the idea that the cost would be divided evenly among the state's students, subtracting about $54 in per-student spending for each of the 739,000 kids in the state's schools.

"That's how the money is allocated to the schools," Marlowe said.

Asked if Calhoun County has actually seen a $497,000 gap this year, Superintendent Joe Dyar said it was impossible to tell.

"In my opinion, this money was never budgeted to local schools this year," Dyar said in a text message late Monday. "Therefore, there is no way to determine."

Attempts to reach Anniston Schools Superintendent Joan Frazier were not immediately successful.

Sen. Trip Pittman, the Daphne Republican who chairs the Alabama Senate's education budget committee, said the AEA was making "a spurious argument."

Pittman said the state is already under budget pressure because it's on a deadline to repay more than $400 million borrowed from a state trust fund several years ago. If few people take the tax credits, and revenues rise above the budgeted amount, he said, that money will go to pay back the debt. But the debt would have to be repaid anyway, he said.

The Accountability Act's creator, Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said the ultimate effect of the tax credit would be worth the money it would cost this year.

"I think $40 million is a small price to pay to lower the dropout rate," Marsh said. He said that by improving educational opportunities, the Accountability Act would eventually raise graduation rates, which would ultimately lead to fewer people winding up in prison.

Marlowe said Marsh was making too many assumptions about the effect of the new law.

"I have yet to see one thing the Accountablity Act has done to lower the dropout rate," she said.

Capitol & statewide correspondent Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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