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The civil rights issue of our era is improving America’s schools. It is essential that all kids, rich and poor, have the chance to achieve the American dream.
To work toward that end, Gov. Robert Bentley recently signed the Alabama Accountability Act. The school choice package allows families with children attending failing schools to receive tax credits to help pay for attendance at a different public school or private school.
"This [act] gives flexibility to children and parents by providing new options for students who are stuck in persistently low-performing schools," Bentley said. "All children deserve access to a quality education, no matter where they live. This provides a new option to help children receive the best education possible."
But on the first day of school, an angry group of bullies barred the schoolhouse door and blocked the underprivileged children. On Monday, lawyers at the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal lawsuit to force these students back to their old failing schools.
Why are these latter-day Bull Connors destroying the education of poor Alabama kids? Because the law helps many families, but not every family.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of eight plaintiffs who say that they can't afford to go to private schools and that the non-failing public schools are not accessible. The lawsuit raises equal protection issues.
One of the eight plaintiffs, Mariah Russaw, said she couldn't afford the transportation costs even if her 12-year-old grandson, J.R., could leave Barbour County Junior High School in Clayton. All junior highs in the Barbour County school system are on the failing list. The nearest non-failing public school is 19 miles away in Pike County.
Alabama has 78 failing public schools, most of which host the state’s poorest students. Nearly 40 percent of the schools are located in low-income counties in a region known as the “Black Belt.” But the so-called civil rights advocates at the SPLC want to keep the poor locked away in a broken educational system.
Guess that’s why it isn’t named the Southern Prosperity Law Center.
The lawsuit claims that the act “creates two classes of students assigned to failing schools – those who can escape because of their parents’ income or where they live and those, like the Plaintiffs here, who cannot.”
These two classes have existed forever; they’re called the rich and the poor. Before this act was signed, rich kids went to posh private schools while poor kids languished in the worst public schools. The new law helped solve that inequality by rescuing thousands of children from educational poverty.
Whether the SPLC admits it or not, they are fans of school choice. But where conservatives want to help all kids get a great education, liberals only want the wealthiest to have that option.
Let’s hope that the courts quickly reject the SPLC’s backward effort to segregate education by income level.
Follow Jon on Twitter at @ExJon.