Private school parent: Bill ‘unfair’

Published 9:04am Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Atmore City Clerk Becca Smith has two young children at Escambia Academy — and under legislation pending the governor’s signature, there is a possibility she could get a tax credit for their high school education.
That’s because — at least according to some lists circulating among legislators — Escambia County High School would be classified a “failing school” under the bill, which would give parents a tax credit if they send their children to private school or to a public school that is not considered failing.
But Smith said she thinks the law — which is pending after a judge blocked it Tuesday — is not fair.
“I was raised in public school,” she said. “I graduated from ECHS. It makes me angry and not just because of my pocketbook, but because of what it could do to the public schools. When the city tries to get industry, the first thing prospective businesspeople look at is the schools for their children. We need to be helping the public schools, not hurting them.”
But Brandi Golden, a Brewton resident, responded to a question on Facebook about the issue and said she supports the tax break.
“I plan to send my child to a private school, and I will much appreciate a tax credit,” she wrote. “It will be one of the few we get. Pretty tired of paying out of the nose for the things that everyone else gets, and for services that I don’t get to use.”
Various reports put the tax break at about $3,500. Tuition at Escambia Academy is about $3,900 per year, according to its Web site, while tuition at Atmore Christian School is $2,200 per year, according to its student handbook.
Escambia Academy Principal Betty Warren had no comment, and school board president Chris Kirk could not be reached for comment.
But ECHS Interim Principal Dennis Fuqua said he is disappointed by the way the bill — which was originally a school flexibility bill supported by school superintendents and the state Department of Education — was changed.
“Any professional organization I’m affiliated with, they were endorsing that bill. When that when through the way it did, they all pulled their endorsements,” Fuqua said. “Do I support the bill the way it is currently written? The answer is no. I do feel that that it would hurt public schools.”
Fuqua said he believes Escambia County High School would lose students if it is considered “failing.” While lists that include ECHS have been circulating, legislators have said the lists are not official. The bill states that “failing” schools will be those in the bottom 10 percent of performance in the state.
“The way it was passed, if ECHS was deemed to be ‘failing,’ you would lose students to a voucher system type school,” Fuqua said. “You would see them get pulled out of public schools.”

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