Four potential local impacts of Alabama Accountability Act

With so much attention in recent weeks going to what has been dubbed as the Alabama Accountability Act, it seems appropriate to take a look at what potential effects the legislation could have in locally.

As a refresher, the legislation had originally been intended to provide local school systems with the flexibility to opt out of certain state mandates. However, the bill quickly morphed to triple its original length and now includes provisions that would provide tax credits of approximately $3,500 to parents whose children are zoned for what have been termed failing schools should they decide to move their children to either non-failing public schools or private schools.

Along with this legislation, Senate Republicans circulated a list of what they believe would be deemed failing schools based upon their understanding of current state data. Included on that list was every pubic school in Marengo County with the exception of the four institutions in the Demopolis City Schools system.

While the inclusion of schools such as Sweet Water, A.L. Johnson and others was nothing short of perplexing, for the purposes of this column we will work with the assumption that the Senate Republican list is accurate and each of these schools would be deemed failing.

With that in mind, let us consider potential scenarios that could take place locally as a result of this legislation based upon our current understanding of its outlined measures.

Keep in mind that these scenarios are merely conjecture and are not based upon any inside information or unreported data. They are simply projected potential outcomes based upon the data that we know to be true.

Scenario 1: Demopolis City Schools drafts a policy that states the system will not accept students from outside the city limits unless they are already enrolled with DCS or have a sibling that is enrolled.

Given that Demopolis City Schools has long had numerous students from Gallion and other places within the county in addition to some from Hale, Greene and Sumter counties, the potential of this policy seems farfetched at first. However, consider that the Senate Republicans’ list of would-be failing schools includes Marengo County Schools, Linden City Schools, Sumter County Schools, Greene County Schools and Greensboro schools. That leaves Demopolis as an oasis in the midst of what legislators believe to be failure. And with the promise of $3,500 per child for those zoned for any of these failing schools, the likelihood of an influx of new students is drastically increased.

It is feasible to think that – in order to preserve the academic opportunities of its current students – that DCS could draft such a policy. And, should that happen, what is the trickle down effect for those in nearby failing schools?

Scenario 2: Demopolis looks hard at extending its city limits.

Demopolis Mayor Mike Grayson has long said that the city limits do not accurately reflect the makeup of the city. Numerous influential individuals and active community members throughout Demopolis live in Gallion or just far enough down Rangeline Road or U.S. Highway 43 that they are not actually Demopolis residents.

Were the Demopolis City Schools Board of Education to draft a “Demopolis only” policy, that would theoretically give plenty of momentum to Grayson in his quest to accomplish such annexations.

Consider briefly the number of families whose children are not yet in school that live just outside Demopolis. Those children would ultimately be zoned for A.L. Johnson and John Essex Schools rather than for Demopolis. Given that these schools are both placed on the “failing” list, such a scenario may provide enough impetus for many families to find themselves in favor of annexation.

Scenario 3: Marengo County Schools makes tough decisions.

Regardless of who many believe this Accountability Act helps, there is little doubt that it hurts the small, rural school. MCS is made up of four schools, all are K-12, three are classified as 1A and one is labeled a 2A. And, according to Senate Republicans’ projections, all are “failing.” This Accountability Act could prove successful in driving students out of “failing” schools. If that were to happen at schools already slight in enrollment numbers, the aftershock could be devastating.

A drop in students means a drop in state funding. A drop in state funding makes it more difficult for the school to do what it needs to get out of the “failing” category. A combination of those factors makes the handwriting on the wall pretty easy to read for such schools. The end could well be near.

Make no mistake: this legislation is intended to shutter some institutional doors. And it is far from a stretch to think that some of Marengo County’s rural schools could end up on that bubble.

Scenario 4: A considerable rise in private school attendance in west Alabama.

Should systems like Demopolis and Thomasville prove unable to accommodate an influx of new students, the most obvious option for many in “failing” districts becomes private schools such as Southern Academy in Greensboro, Sumter Academy in York and Marengo Academy in Linden. Such a circumstance could also help increase the numbers of a budding private schools such as West Alabama Christian, which currently is only a K4-7 but has designs on adding a grade level each year. It is also easy to conceive of the rise of new private schools popping up around the area.

The market for such schools just received the biggest jolt imaginable and the potential closure of “failing” schools would make it easier to find staff for private institutions as the unemployed educator market could spike.

Again, it is difficult to understand just how impactful this legislation will ultimately be. However, there are numerous scenarios that are possible and increasingly likely given the passage of such a bill.

The only certainties are that this legislation will have some sort of a profound effect on education in Alabama and that rural areas such as Marengo County will be affected much differently than more urban locations such as Birmingham, Mobile or Montgomery.