The state of Alabama unveiled its list of so-called failing schools today, labeling in bold red letters 74 attendance zones throughout inner cities and rural counties.All are high-poverty schools. And nearly all are predominantly black.
For those 74 schools, the list promises immediate consequences, as those parents can suddenly use state tax dollars to switch to private schools.
But massive flight is unlikely, as every one of those 74 schools sits in a poor neighborhood.The median poverty level was 94 percent, according to free and reduced-price lunch figures from last school years. That means half of those schools saw more than 94 percent of their students receive subsidized lunch.
But the state’s plan calls for parents to pay for private school upfront and wait on a check.
The state tax credit reimbursements would arrive in the spring. Tuition payments would start in August. And even then, a late check for about $3,500 is unlikely to cover the full the cost of tuition, fees and transportation for most private schools.
Meanwhile, the Alabama Department of Revenue said it won’t provide tax credits to the parents in those 74 zones who already send their children to private school.
The new law also allows students to request a transfer to a non-failing school within the same system, or attempt to find a neighboring system that is willing to take in new students.
Yet today’s list says more about socioeconomic factors that link to low test scores than about what makes for good teaching and discipline.
Not one school in an affluent area was listed as failing.
The lowest poverty level for the entire list was found at Midfield High.There 78 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. (My High School)
The median for African-American enrollment was 95 percent, meaning half the schools saw African-American percentages higher than that. But unlike poverty, there were exceptions.
Samson Middle in Geneva County was the only predominantly white school to be labeled as failing. There 75 percent of students are white.
There were two other failing schools with more white children than African American children.
Those were Russell County Middle at 54 percent white and Davis Emerson in Tuscaloosa County at 48 percent white.
Several schools, such as Brookhaven in Decatur and Brighton in Jefferson County, saw a majority of African American students but also a large population of Latino students.
Meanwhile, the state did release 78 schools on its official list. But that list included Cullman County Child Development Center, Montgomery Children’s Center, Nolen Learning Center in Shelby County and Augusta Evans in Mobile. All four serve special needs students and are not neighborhood schools.
Amendments to the Alabama Accountability Act specifically order the state to ignore such special centers, which don’t have a traditional zone for determining which parents should qualify for the tax credits.
In fairness to state education officials, all four of the special centers landed on the list because of conflicting orders from lawmakers. All three had been listed on the federal School Improvement Grant in 2011, which is one of the criteria for coming up with today’s list. That’s how 14 got there.
The rest scored in the lowest 6 percent on state standardized tests in reading and math during three out of the last six years. State Superintendent Tommy Bice has criticized those measures, arguing the state should instead consider which schools are making improvements with the students they have.
In the end, we’ll call it 74. That’s 74 neighborhood schools labeled as failing.That’s also a list of 74 schools where the most commonly occurring student racial composition is 100 percent African American and where the most commonly occurring poverty level is 95 percent.
Updated at 2:50 p.m. to indicate that Augusta Evans School in Mobile is also dedicated to special needs students. That means four of the 78 failing schools on the state’s list are not traditional neighborhood schools.