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Accountability Act could affect local schools

Published 6:47pm Thursday, March 7, 2013

Even though a controversial tax credit bill being delayed by court proceedings won’t affect school enrollment in Pike County, it could have an impact on the amount of money local schools receive in the future.

The bill, which started out as the School Flexibility Act and became the Alabama Accountability Act, includes tax credits to help parents take their children out of failing public schools and send them to private institutions. The bill would also provide tax credits for businesses and individuals who contribute money toward scholarships for children whose parents can’t afford private schools.

“We would not be impacted directly because we don’t have any schools that fit that [failing] category,” said Pike County Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Bazzell. “Our biggest concern would be what impact the act would have on the bottom line of the Education Trust Fund. There are still a lot of unanswered questions, right now.”

From a state standpoint, Republican legislative leaders are backing the bill while Democrats, the Alabama Education Association, and the state superintendent of education are opposing it.

“The issue in Pike County will be how much will local school systems have to take in a reduction of funds,” said Rep. Alan Boothe. “I personally don’t think it will affect school funding that much. Nobody knows exactly what the figure will be. There is no way to know that, but in a $6 billion budget, $25 million is not something that is insurmountable.”

Boothe said numbers from $40 million down to $10 million had been thrown around as to how much money might be used for tax credits. Boothe said it really depends on how many people with children in failing schools take advantage of the credit.

The legislation in question began as a way to provide more flexibility for city and county schools. The House and Senate passed different versions of the bill and created a conference committee to work out a compromise.

That committee was Republican-dominated, though, which eventually brought about the controversy surrounding the Alabama Accountability Act.

The committee revised the bill on a party-line vote, with four Republicans voting yes and two Democrats voting no. The House and Senate approved the revised bill that added the private school tax credit and was triple the size of the original one. Most Republicans voted yes. Most Democrats voted no.

The Alabama Education Association filed a lawsuit Monday with the belief that the Legislature violated Alabama’s open meetings law when it passed the bill. The lawsuit said the four Republicans on the conference committee worked out the tax credits in a private meeting. Attorneys for state officials named in the suit said there was no private meeting.

On Wednesday, Montgomery County Circuit Judge Charles Price issued a temporary restraining order that prevents Gov. Robert Bentley from signing the bill until a hearing on March 15. Now Republican legislative leaders are asking the Alabama Supreme Court to throw out the order, noting that they believe Price, a Democrat, is violating the separation of powers doctrine by getting involved in the legislative process before a bill becomes a law.

Troy City Schools Board of Education President Dr. Judson Edwards said that there are parts of the bill that are agreeable, but he does take some issue with the tax credit.

“I think we should have to be held responsible and accountable and be competitive with all schools,” Edwards said. “The goal is to let students get the best education available. What does concern me about the bill is that I don’t want school systems that don’t have failing schools to pay the price. I don’t want us to be cut in funding so the funds can be directed somewhere else.”

Another issue Edwards brought up is that private schools and public schools are not held to the same standards. While private schools do have standards in place, Edwards said, they are not held to the same state standards.

“There aren’t any certain benchmarks they have to hit. I think that could be something that comes up as well,” Edwards said.

The fate of the bill now lies with the Alabama Supreme Court.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

  • johngalt781

    If Bazzell would read the bill he would know the answers to his questions . I guess someone needs to explain to him that the education trust fund will be saving 20% on the students that are transferred out of failing schools. When a student transfers to a passing schools from a failing schools the trust fund only pays 80% of the cost per student, in the form of tax credits, to the school transferred to. 20% is a huge saving when you consider how many students we could be talking about. The failing schools are the only ones that will suffer, as well they should. They will lose the cost per student funding for the student that transfers out of their school. There is one thing i’m not real sure on. How does the school transferred to receive the funding to finance the additional cost involved in educating the additional students. I’m not sure if the parent must initially fund that cost or some program will be set to . Either way this is the best thing to happen to education . Failing schools and teachers will be replaced with more efficient schools and teachers. Not to mention intelligent kids will not be forced to be educated in the same classrooms with uneducatable kids by way of a suppressed curriculum.

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  • Observer

    Johngalt – - apparently you have read the bill (as it was finally adopted). I have searched for it but have only been able to find the original proposed bill. Is the final version available on line somewhere?

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    • johngalt781

      Observer i have it at work. i’ll send it to you monday .

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  • Observer

    A serious issue arises in the manner in which this measure was amended and adopted and the role of the judicial system.
    The house and senate adopted similar bills which resulted in their being sent to a conference committee to iron out the differences. When the single bill emerged it was three times as long and included provisions which will result in millions of dollars being spent annually which were not even mentioned in the original bill.
    The process invokes two dangerous precedents. (1) By skirting its own rules the legislature has invited the judicial system to become involved and (2) creating the pattern by which the legislature will evade its own rules and adopt legislation in a similar fashion wholly avoiding the deliberative process.

    Enacting controversial legislation is not easy. It is not supposed to be. When tools like this become the pattern we will wind up with more and more legislation resembling Obamacare and by the time the state figures out what it has done to itself it will be very difficult (and expensive) to correct.

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  • johngalt781

    Bill private schools already require a higher degree of academic standards than do public schools so that is moot. No, private schools will retain their present admissions standards. (otherwords they can pick and choose). Which of course is exactly the point of this bill. It segregates kids by academic ability and prevents smart students being forced to be educated with dumb students. It will bunch up all the dumb trouble makers into certain schools and group the smart and potentially successful students into another school. What fool could argue with those results.Public education has attempted to educate them together to achieve equal success with all kids and it has been a dismal failure.

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  • johngalt781

    Curly just because i communicate in a casual manner doesn’t imply i can’t speak eloquently when necessary. However i admit my forte is math and logic.

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  • Bill_OReally

    She was probably just awe struck by your great intellect.

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  • johngalt781

    It had nothing to do with intellect Bill, i had more pennies laying in the console than anything else and i wanted to get rid of some of them. If i had time i would have counted out 24 to her.

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  • Bill_OReally

    Well, at least she did figure it out eventually. By the way, will private schools be required to abide by government standards if they accept students who pay with these “vouchers”? Also, will they be required to accept students they don’t want?

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  • Curly

    I cannot imagine her math skills being much worse than your grammar. It’s ironic that someone who is as condescending and judgmental as yourself fumbles with simple grammar.

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