MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Gov. Robert Bentley quickly signed legislation Thursday providing Alabama's first tax credits for private school attendance after he was given permission by the Alabama Supreme Court.
The Alabama Supreme Court decided Wednesday to throw out a lower court order that kept the Legislature from sending the bill to the governor for signing. The Legislature delivered the bill Thursday and Bentley signed it.
"This is an opportunity for children of this state to have something they've never had before," Bentley said.
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.
On Feb. 28, a legislative conference committee controlled by the Republican majority tripled the bill in size and added state tax credits for parents who chose to send their children to a private school rather than a public school rated as failing. Parents can also send their children to a non-failing public school rather than a failing school. For parents who can't afford private school tuition, the bill sets up a scholarship program, with people and businesses getting tax credits for contributing.
"Our goal is not to support private education. Our goal is to make every school in this state a non-failing school," Bentley said.
Bentley acknowledged the bill had some problems, including language that always ranks 10 percent of Alabama's schools as failing, but he said they can be worked out through state regulations or fixed later by the Legislature.
The Alliance for School Choice said Alabama joins 16 states that have vouchers or tax credits for private school attendance. Across the nation, 148,300 students participated in some type of tax credit program and 97,252 in voucher programs in 2012-13. Vouchers are given to parents upfront, while tax credits come after parents have paid private school tuition.