The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

March 5, 2013

Judge plans to rule on school tax credits

— MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A judge temporarily blocked the governor from signing a private school tax credit bill into law Tuesday after a teachers' group sued, saying the Legislature broke open meetings laws and its own rules when it passed the legislation.

The Alabama Education Association maintains the tax credits would hurt funding for public schools because Alabama's income tax supports public education. Republicans, including Gov. Robert Bentley, believe the bill would give students more choice for a quality education.

Circuit Judge Charles Price, a Democrat, said he would rule on whether to extend the temporary restraining order Wednesday.

Bentley had planned to sign the bill into law in a ceremony Tuesday afternoon. After the judge's action, he said he was ready to sign it as soon as he can. "This is the most important thing that has ever happened to education," he said.

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 its 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.

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

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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