The primary author of the tax credits, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said he's not surprised at the number because the list of failing schools and the proposed regulations were issued close to the start of the school year. He predicted the numbers will grow significantly for the 2014-15 year as more parents and schools understand the law and some false information fades away.
"There's been a lot of misinformation that schools would lose their private status if they signed up," he said.
Craig Pouncey, chief of staff for the Alabama Department of Education, said participation is lower than he expected, and he cited several reasons: Many well-known private schools don't have room to add a lot of students, and some are in areas with no failing public schools.
Pouncey also said that when parents already have had a transfer choice, they haven't rushed to switch schools: 92,000 Alabama students attended low-income Title 1 schools where school choice was available during the 2012-13 school year, but only 1,800 students used it. "Kids don't want to leave their home school," he said.
Montgomery County has eight failing public schools, but only one private school there has signed up — Resurrection Catholic School, which serves pre-K through eighth grade on a well-landscaped campus on the city's blue-collar north side.
Sister Gail Trippett, the principal, and the Rev. Manuel Williams, director of Resurrection Catholic Ministries, said they're surprised more aren't participating because they have been flooded with calls from interested parents since their school became the second in the state to sign up.
So far, more than 70 students who want to transfer from failing schools have taken Resurrection's entrance test. Trippett and Williams said they expect to enroll one-third to one-half of students. Admitting more might change the character of the 130-student school, they said.