The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

March 5, 2013

Judge temporarily halts private school tax credits

— MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A Montgomery judge temporarily blocked the governor from signing a private school tax credit bill and set a hearing for Tuesday afternoon.

Circuit Judge Charles Price issued the order Tuesday morning after the Alabama Education Association, a teachers' group, sued a day earlier.

The teachers' group's suit argues the Legislature violated Alabama's open meetings law and its own operating rules when it passed the legislation with a quick series of votes Thursday night. AEA maintains the tax credits would hurt funding for public schools because Alabama's income tax supports public education.

A supporter of the bill, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said, "It's unfortunate that anyone would try to stop a bill that gives students in failing schools more options to receive a quality education."

The bill started out as a way to provide more flexibility to city and county school boards in complying with state education laws. After the House and Senate passed different versions, a Republican-dominated conference committee rewrote the bill and tripled it in size. The changes added tax credits for parents who decide to send their children to private schools rather than failing public schools. It also set up a scholarship program for parents who can't afford private school tuition, with businesses and individuals getting tax credits for contributing toward the scholarships.

The Alliance for School Choice said Alabama would become the 12th state with a tax credit program.

"I truly believe it is the most significant piece of legislation that's been passed in this Legislature in years," Gov. Robert Bentley said last week.

AEA's suit maintains the Republican majority on the conference committee violated the open meetings law by writing the new version in private without any public notice, and without including the two Democratic members of the committee.

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