— MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — With the start of the year just three weeks away for most districts, only seven private schools have signed up for Alabama's new program of tax credits to help students transfer from failing public schools.
The tax credits are available for the first time in the 2013-14 school year to parents who move their children from one of Alabama's 78 failing public schools to a private school that signs up for the program.
The credits are part of the Alabama Accountability Act, which Gov. Robert Bentley signed into law in March. Bentley said he's not surprised by the low participation because the law represents a new relationship between state government and private schools.
"They are private for a reason. They are religious for a reason, and they don't necessarily want the state involved in what they do every day," he said.
J. Robin Mears, executive director of the Alabama Christian Education Association, said a major reason for the low participation so far is that the state's rules for implementing the law aren't final even though most schools start back around Aug. 19.
"It's the lateness of it," Mears said.
State Revenue Commissioner Julie Magee said her department has had few calls from private schools about its proposed regulations for implementing the tax credits, but she's not sure why. The department is holding a public hearing on its proposed regulations Aug. 8 in Montgomery. After that, the department could make revisions or Magee could sign off on the rules. Then they go to a legislative committee for possible review. The process could be finished in as little as two months or more than four months.
Mears said he expects more schools will sign up before classes resume in August, but he predicts the full effect of the new law won't be known until the 2014-15 school year, when private schools will have had plenty of time to review the rules and the state's interpretation of them.