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Another look at HB 84

By: Joe Bart Moss

Education issues have been the lead story in the state of Alabama and in Franklin County for the past several weeks.

Education is a topic that gets everyone’s attention especially when it involves our local schools, our children and grandchildren, and our tax dollars.

Education is my passion. Education is the family business. My parents were long-time educators, my wife is an educator, and my two sisters are educators.

I love to walk into the classroom every day and have a chance to make an impact on as many students as possible.

I teach history, government, and economics and love the subjects and can talk for endless hours about each one. However, my favorite days are when we stop what we are doing and talk about life.

I am also a parent. I have a fifth grader and one about to enter the school system.  I want my children to get the very best education possible. I know what kind of world they are going to grow up in.  They need to be as prepared as possible to take on the competition for jobs and meet the challenges that their generation is going to face.

I say all of this because I want you to understand my perspective on the debate over House Bill #84 better known is the Accountability Act of 2013 Governor Robert Bentley signed last week.

One of the primary things this new law does is gives tax credits to families with students in persistently “failing” schools to help them attend nonpublic schools or non-failing public schools.

There are great public schools, there are good public schools and there are bad public schools. There are great private schools, there are good private schools and there are bad private schools.

The BIG difference in the two is this:  if you are a persistently bad private school you eventually go out of business because no one is going to continue to pay high tuition prices for a poor product.

You know…the real world.

In the world of government, however, if you are a persistently failing public school you get rewarded by the government with more money.  Real issues are never addressed.

Real solutions are never proposed.  Just give them more money and more time.  It is reverse incentives. It is crazy. It doesn’t work. And, it’s just plain wrong to punish good schools and reward bad schools.

Now, if a school has a rough year every now and then, I don’t think that school should be considered a failing school.  Every school is going to have a dud class come through occasionally.

However, if a school repeatedly has low graduation rates, low test scores, low attendance/tardiness issues and other measures that constitute a failing school then you have a leadership problem.

Too much attention has been placed on teachers on this issue. When a school is persistently failing the problem is not the teachers.

It is the administration and leadership.  Schools are just like any other organization.  Leadership is the key to success.

Organizations and people operate best when there are incentives involved.

I have been asked by several people, “How does this bill (HB84) help public schools?”

I was reading an article recently about a “failing” public school in a poor community in the Northeast. The unemployment in that community is 60 percent higher than the national average, 75 percent of the students live in homes where only Spanish is spoken, and 25 percent are thought to be illegal immigrants living in fear of deportation.

Despite these glaring obstacles this school turned things around dramatically.  Their high school graduation rate was 89.5 percent- 10 percent higher than the national average.  75 percent of their graduates enrolled in college with top students earning scholarships to Ivy League schools.

What was the incentive for this school?  Threat of state takeover or closure.

The same thing that would happen to a poorly performing private school.

So, what does this bill do for public education? It gives “failing” public schools a sense of urgency to turn things around quickly or lose jobs.  It gives the community the incentive of forcing accountability on their school or they may lose their school.

Incentives can be a very powerful thing.  Will this bill be a success? Only time will tell.

It’s easy for wealthy legislators and Governor “wanna-bes” like Craig Ford to tell poor parents that they don’t deserve a choice and they don’t deserve a financial way out of their circumstances and they don’t deserve to give their children a great education.  It’s easy for them because they don’t have to live it nor do they have to live with the consequences.

The Craig Fords of the world just say give us more time and we will throw more money at the same problems. In the meantime, parent, leave your child in that “failing” school while we try to figure it out.  Trust us!

They say to the suffering children: Sorry, little ones, your future means far less to us than the next election and our allegiance to campaign donors.

If I am a parent and my children are trapped in these unfortunate circumstances I want every available choice and every available financial option to make the best decision possible for my child.

Education is the great equalizer.  Education is the only way to end the cycle of poverty for families.  Education, according to Nelson Mandela, is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.

Anyone who would deny great educational opportunities and choices for children trapped in poorly performing schools and unfortunate circumstances does not deserve to have a seat at the table when it comes to educational debates.


Joe Bart Moss is a United States History, Government and Economics teacher in the Franklin County school system. He writes a blog on education, success, leadership and current events at He can be reached at or at 256-762-0005.www.