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State Superintendent discusses the demographics of failing schools in Alabama


The single greatest variable in predicting the success of a public school is the racial makeup.


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.