Gov. signs Accountability Act

Published 11:00 pm Thursday, March 14, 2013

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley signed the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013 on Thursday while the Alabama Education Association was busy preparing another lawsuit to try to keep tax credits from reducing public school funding.

The bill started out as legislation to allow city and county school systems to get approval from the state school board to have flexibility in complying with state education laws. Its goal was to encourage innovative approaches to education.

However, on Feb. 28, a legislative conference committee, made up of mostly Republicans, greatly expanded the bill and added state tax credits for parents who want to send their children to private schools rather than failing public schools.

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The AEA sued on March 4 to keep the governor from signing the law, saying the Legislature violated the open meetings law and its own operating rules when passing the legislation. A Democratic judge in Montgomery barred the governor from getting the bill while the suit was considered, but the all-Republican Supreme Court lifted the order and dismissed the suit. The justices said the suit was premature because the bill hadn’t been signed by the governor.

The Legislature delivered the bill Thursday and Bentley signed it.

“When all the dust settles and the scare campaign comes to an end, I think most Alabamians will be proud that our state gives parents more freedom of choice over their children’s education, and gives children trapped in chronically failing schools a way out–a path to a better education and an equal opportunity for a brighter future,” said Sen. Bryan Taylor.

Bentley’s main focus in statements Thursday were concerning school flexibility.

“For the first time ever, we’re giving all public schools the flexibility they need to better serve their students,” Governor Bentley said.

“Every school can now develop new ideas that come from their local teachers and their local principals and then put those ideas into practice. Local educators deserve the freedom and opportunity to make their schools better. That’s what this legislation provides.”

Taylor said the new law won’t take money away from education, but instead create fiscal responsibility.

“This new law doesn’t take a dime away from education. It’s not a question of how much money we’re going to spend on education in Alabama.,” Taylor said. “The total amount of education funding does not change under is bill. The debate is whether we’re going to keep throwing our tax dollars at chronically failing schools or give parents more freedom to choose where to send their own tax dollars in order to obtain the very best education for their children.”

Still, some educators are worried about what this bill means in the way of funds diverted from local systems where there are no failing schools.

“At this point, I guess all we can do is wait and see what the overall impact is to Pike County. Despite some saying this will not effect funding for school systems without failing schools, I think it is universally accepted there will be some impact,” said Pike County Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Bazzell. “Even proponents of the bill admit this. There remain a lot of other unanswered questions.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.