Our View: State funding means loss of independence
Now comes the part that the private and parochial schools don’t like. It seems that if they accept students whose families get tax credits or scholarships for attending school there rather than failing public schools, there are reports to be filed with the State Department of Education each year.

Randy Skipper, who is executive director of the Alabama Independent School Association, described it well. He would expect many of his schools to decline to participate, he said, if the tax credits and scholarships come with state involvement.

“The whole point is they are independent schools,” he said.

And that is exactly right. They are independent and to stay that way neither the school nor parents of its teachers should get state funds for any reason at all. If the taxpayers of Alabama help finance a school that claims to be independent, that school should lose some of its independence.

Sen. President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, was one of the architects of the law, but he now sees the need for the state to receive information each year from the private schools. One change he offered would require the schools that accept the money to administer state achievement tests, or nationally recognized tests to measure learning in math and language arts.

The test results would be analyzed by an independent researcher who would then make recommendations for improvements.

We see a lot wrong with that change. Who hires the independent researcher? Who pays the researcher? Who decides what to do about the schools where improvements are needed?

Not so simple, is it?

Yet, Father John McDonald, education and lifelong formation for the Diocese of Birmingham, says he considers Marsh’s proposed changes a “bit big brotherish.” And to be fair, perhaps they are.

But the issue is not one of Big Brother sticking its nose in where it does not belong. Instead, the issue is this: If any school accepts state money, in whatever form it is supplied, then that school should meet state standards for education.

We are not against private schools. We know there are many parochial schools in Alabama where students receive excellent educations. And just up the road in Anniston is Donoho, a private school with a great reputation for academic excellence.

So, this editorial is not aimed at them, or other private schools in the state. Instead, it is aimed at the idea of giving those schools state money without asking for accountability.

Actually we believe there are enough questions surrounding this issue that the Legislature should put it on hold for at least another year. A group that includes teachers, educational administrators at the local and state level, and political leaders from across the state should get together and talk about all the issues that surround this idea.

The issues are many, ranging from how to define a failing school to issues of accountability if state money is accepted. Let’s get those issues worked out first, and then offer a comprehensive bill, if one is needed.

© 2013