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Hope Zeanah is currently Coordinator of Administrative Services for the Baldwin County school system in Alabama. She was principal at Elberta Elementary School for 16 years and was named Alabama's Prinicipal of the Year in 2013.

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Are Private School Students Worth More Than Public School Students?

Elberta, Alabama

May 14, 2015

Editor's Note: We featured Hope Zeanah two weeks ago in our story on Elberta (Alabama) Elementary School's Elvis Museum. On April 8th, Hope testified in front of Alabama's House Education Ways & Means Committee on a legislative proposal that would approve state-funded scholarships for private schools of up to $10,000 per student. We think Hope's testimony is an excellent way to kick-off our Educator's Voice series. Here is what Hope had to say:

I am Hope Zeanah, Coordinator of Administrative Services for the Baldwin County school system. This is my 32nd year in education. I have taught in both private and public schools and was principal of Elberta Elementary for 16 years.

I have an undergraduate degree and two master's degrees. I was honored to be named elementary principal of the year in 2013.

I certainly consider myself a professional and believe education is one of the most rewarding professions there is.

For that reason it has saddened me to witness some of the decisions lawmakers in Montgomery have passed in the last few years. The most stark example of this was in 2013 when the Alabama Accountability Act was passed. I am still amazed that our legislature would pass the most radical education policy in the history of this state without input from any educators.

An even more recent example was the approval of charter schools. For me to hold my profession in such high regard, then legislators to say that their teachers do not have to be certified, was very disheartening. I find it very ironic that a barber in Alabama must be certified‐‐but not a teacher.

Sadly to say that is all water under the bridge. But what I do hope to do is change your mind on a bill you are considering today. The Senate says that we should approve scholarships for private schools up to $10,000 per student. But in Baldwin County this year the state is only sending $5,454 for us to educate each child, regardless the grade they are in.

With me today are my granddaughter and grandson. Sully is in kindergarten and Graysen is in the first grade at Fairhope Elementary School.

Now which one of you wants to tell one of them that a student in a private school is worth $4,500 a year more than they are?

As you know, each dollar that goes to a private school scholarship under this program is a dollar that never went into the Education Trust Fund to be used to help education in some form or fashion. While there may be disagreement as to how this money would have been spent, there is no disagreement that the accountability act approves decreasing the ETF by $25 million.

We love to talk about equity. About how we need to narrow the gap between certain students. But where is the equity when we are willing to give a child in a private school 80% more money than one in public school?

If we are truly concerned about equity, then I ask that you limit the amount of a scholarship to equal the state average of funding for all public school students in Alabama.

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