By Dr. Gregory T. Graves, AEA Associate Executive Secretary
There was a surprising bit of honesty this week from Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh, the architect of the “Alabama Accountability Act.” In discussing a new bill that would seek to eliminate the cap on tax credits individuals can receive for donating to scholarship granting organizations, Marsh agreed with AEA as to the purpose of the bill. As reported by the Montgomery Advertiser, Marsh said, “There’s some high wealth individuals who want to participate in the plan and that’s what it’s about.”
Read that last sentence again and again. That sentence captures what the supermajority in the legislature is all about. They are a government of high wealth individuals, by high wealth individuals, for high wealth individuals. They have no regard for working folks. They are confident that they will have enough money to run television ads and do just enough on hot-button social issues that working folks will continue to vote against their own best interests.
The same pattern of looking out for the haves and discounting the have-nots carries over to their higher education policy. All you hear from them is “workforce development.” Friends, that is just a nice pretty buzzword for providing more money to for-profit corporations. Alabama taxpayers pay to train workers in our two-year colleges for wealthy corporations who can then avoid paying taxes to support those colleges by donating to private school scholarship funds. It’s a vicious cycle.
For all his faults, George Wallace had a great idea with the two-year college system. While four-year colleges are great, and they are the best option for many students, they are not ideal for everyone. Some students cannot afford to leave home right after high school, so to be able to get their first two years of college courses while living and eating at home gives them an opportunity for a higher education. Some students need the individual attention and smaller class sizes that community colleges offer to be able to transition academically and socially to the college environment. Then, there are students who will not be attending a four-year school but can attend a technical program to obtain the skills necessary to get a good-paying job. That is what this system is supposed to be about.
However, the supermajority does not see it that way. They continue to try and shift the focus and mission of our community colleges to “workforce development” so that individuals are trained at public expense for private employers. There’s nothing wrong with strategic partnerships so that students get skills that are in demand. It’s something else entirely to give away corporate welfare in the guise of education.
That’s the thing about the supermajority and its worldview. They want to support education, but only for the wealthy and well-to-do. Vouchers and tax credits support private schools, while public schools are left to get by with the scraps. Rather than support the academic mission of our two-year system, they want to convert it to simple job training. Wealthy kids get a good education, go to college, and become wealthy adults. Poor kids get an underfunded education, maybe go to a vocation school, but possibly end up in a line of McJobs or worse. They are trying to set up an economic caste system and squeeze out the middle class and working professionals like educators.
We can’t allow that to happen. If this supermajority is returned to Montgomery in November, you will not recognize education in Alabama in four years. The bill I referenced above about lifting the limit on individual tax credits for private scholarships is only the beginning. Mark my words, next year they will be in Montgomery removing the $25 million cap from those credits. Tens and hundreds of millions of dollars will flow to private schools. The creep in the two year college mission away from academics and toward corporate welfare will accelerate. If you want more of the same, vote for it. If you think we can do better, vote for better.
I leave you with this. An amendment was proposed to the budget in the Senate before it passed. It would have redirected the $3 million in the budget for the “liability insurance” (that isn’t really insurance but merely an attack on AEA), and earmarked it for paper towels and toilet paper in our public schools. How many of you reading this have sent letters home asking parents to send those items, because your school needed them but couldn’t afford them? I can promise you the private schools now getting public tax money don’t have to make that request. However, that amendment was shot down, as the supermajority thought that another $3 million to try and weaken AEA was a good investment. It was just another perfect example that this supermajority cares nothing about the kids in our public schools and everything about the “high wealth individuals” who are their masters.
As always, together we stand.