Alabama School Superintendents Told To Refuse School Choice Forms

While school’s out for summer, some low-income parents are apparently being stonewalled by school officials, preventing them from sending their children to better schools, as Alabama law allows.

This law—the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA)—provides a way for children from some low-income families to receive scholarships to attend different schools when their current school is not giving them the education they deserve. Often times, this means using the scholarship for private schools, when these children would otherwise be trapped in underperforming public schools. In other words, the law gives children from poorer families the same opportunities as those from more affluent families.

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Unfortunately, some of these families are running into a roadblock when they try to switch schools. The supposed rub is, the law requires qualified families to submit a form, a portion of which must be completed by the superintendents in charge of the schools they’re leaving.

According to a recent article in the Anniston Star, “A group representing Alabama public school superintendents advised its members to refuse to sign forms to allow their students to enroll in private schools under Alabama’s school choice law…” That group, the Star says, is School Superintendents of Alabama (SSA)—“the professional association for school system executives and their leadership teams.” And one of the superintendents taking their advice is Anniston City Schools Superintendent Darren Douthitt.

According to the article, the reason this organization is telling its members to refuse to sign the forms, and the reason Mr. Douthitt is complying with their request, is their claim that doing so requires the superintendent to verify if a child lives in their district. As the SSA’s Executive Director, Eric Mackey told the Anniston Star, “By signing the form, you’re verifying that their address is the correct address, and you don’t know if that’s true or not.”

The only problem with this reasoning is that it appears to be untrue. As the article points out, “The law only requires that school administrators verify that an address lies within their school district, not that a student resides at a particular address.”

As the law’s author (also from Anniston), Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, said, “The law is clear. Nowhere does it say or imply that superintendents must verify a child’s residence. They only have to verify that the address is in their district. If you carry their position to its logical conclusion, they would be just as opposed to kids entering their schools as they are to these children leaving, and I’m quite confident they’re not claiming the same burden when kids are coming in. To be honest, their claim doesn’t pass the straight-face test.”

Ryan Cantrell, Regional Advocacy & Political Director for the American Federation for Children—a group that advocates school choice for parents—agrees with Senator Marsh.

“Let’s be clear – this is not about a form. This is about their opposition to the Accountability Act and keeping poor families from having school choice. I mean, look at their history. These are the same people that fought the original bill when it was first passed, and who sued the state after the law was passed to stop it from going into effect. So this has nothing to do with a form. This is just their latest attempt to keep poor families from having the same educational options as families with more financial means.”

Cantrell was also clear that his organization is not inclined to sit on the sidelines: “If superintendents continue to refuse to follow the law, then we will do whatever necessary to make sure any parents involved have proper legal representation.”

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