Did they erupt in joy for the children who now have a real opportunity to choose success over failure? Er, not exactly:
Republicans dropped a legislative bombshell tonight as they slammed through a dramatically revamped education bill that will give tax credits for families at “failing schools” to send their children to private school or another public school.
Lawmakers voted mid-day to send a school flexibility bill — that would let school systems seek waivers from some policies — to conference committee. The conference committee reported a dramatically different bill that included the flexibility measures plus what some lawmakers called school vouchers.
Republicans heralded it as a historic day for education and life-altering for children stuck in poorly performing schools. But tempers boiled over as Democrats called the maneuver “sleaziness” and a “bait and switch.”
Governor Robert Bentley insisted that this represented a step forward for children whose choices had been restricted to just the failing schools in the government education monopoly prior to the passage of the bill, which Bentley will sign next week:
The reaction on the state senate floor can be heard here, although it’s not easy to follow except to note the anger over the change in the bill. “We’re going to help children in this state!” says one of the bill’s backers, over the repeated chant of “Point of order!” from one of its opponents.
Democrats in the legislature accused Republicans of “sleaziness” in pushing the school choice option for students in failing schools:
The move drew outrage from Democrats who said the plan was evidently in the works for some time.
“I’ve never seen such sleaziness,” Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, said.
And consider the race card tossed:
Rep. Mary Moore, D-Birmingham, as she was leaving the House chamber threw her hands over her head and shouted, “Welcome to the new confederacy where a bunch of white men are now going to take over black schools.”
Well, if the “black schools” are where students are failing, wouldn’t that set the black students free of that failure? Isn’t that supposed to be a good thing? Why wouldn’t we want to give those students the same chance at success as other children in the state, rather than leave them locked into failing state-run institutions?
Our tipster on this story noted that the teachers union managed to block a more limited school-choice bill last year in Alabama, which is probably why the state GOP held their cards closer to the vest this time. If Alabama voters agree that this was a sleazy maneuver, and the argument can certainly be made, then Republicans will suffer the consequences in the next election. If, however, the parents of those children locked into failing schools value the educational possibilities for their children over the needs of the teachers union and the Democrats, the state GOP will reap a harvest of new voters. I suspect that the latter will be much more true than the former.