The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

May 28, 2014

Judge overturns Alabama Accountability Act

— MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A Montgomery judge on Wednesday struck down Alabama's tax credits for parents who move their children from failing public schools to private schools.

Circuit Judge Gene Reese ruled the Alabama Accountability Act violates the Alabama Constitution in several ways, including putting more than one subject in a bill. Proponents said they will appeal the ruling by the Democratic judge before the all-Republican Alabama Supreme Court.

The Republican-controlled Legislature passed the act in February 2013. It started out as a bill to give city and county school systems more flexibility in trying new approaches to education.

Over Democratic objections, the Republican majority expanded the bill to include state income tax credits for parents who move their children from public schools rated as failing to other non-failing public schools or private schools in the transfer program. The expansion also provided 100 percent income tax credits for companies and individuals for money donated for scholarships to private schools for families below certain income levels.

Proponents said the law offered school choice to students trapped in public schools with a long history of poor performance. Members of the state teachers' organization, the Alabama Education Association, challenged the law in court. The group contends such tax credits divert state tax money from public education to promote private schools.

Reese said the Legislature violated the Constitution by putting more than one subject in the law and by changing the legislation from its original purpose of flexibility, which had virtually no cost, to tax credits, estimated to cost $40 million annually. He also said the law violates the constitutional prohibition about providing public funds for private education. The judge wrote that the Legislature can't avoid the prohibition "by instead reimbursing parents the cost of their tuition payment at such institutions."

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