Details of a flawed bill
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Mar 04, 2013 | 4800 views |  0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley talks with reporters in his Capitol office in Montgomery. The Republican governor and legislative leaders ran over their education allies when they pushed through legislation providing state tax credits for attending private schools. Photo: Dave Martin/The Associated Press
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley talks with reporters in his Capitol office in Montgomery. The Republican governor and legislative leaders ran over their education allies when they pushed through legislation providing state tax credits for attending private schools. Photo: Dave Martin/The Associated Press
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As this page observed last week, the process by which Alabama’s widely supported school flexibility bill became a tax credit bill was one of the worst examples of backroom politics we have seen in many a legislative session.

Now comes the question, is the bill as bad as the way it was passed?

Well, let’s look at it.

Originally, the legislation was written to give local schools flexibility in complying with state laws and board of education regulations.

It was nine pages long and had the support of the state superintendent of education, the state school superintendents’ association and the editorial boards of most state newspapers, including The Anniston Star. That part is still there.

However, when the House and Senate passed different versions of the bill, it went to a GOP-dominated conference committee. When it came out, the committee had added 18 more pages.

Added were provisions for tax credits for parents who withdraw their children from failing public schools. This money can be used to cover the cost of enrolling their students in a successful public school or (and this is the very big “or”) a nonpublic (private or parochial) school.

A-ha, critics say. Republicans who have sought a way to funnel public money to private schools had found it.

Yes they have. But there is was more to the bill.

The GOP bill-writers realized that many failing schools are in high-poverty areas where parents do not earn enough money and pay enough taxes for tax credits to cover the cost of attending other schools. Thus, those legislators included a provision that directed the state Department of Revenue to set up and oversee nonprofit organizations that will provide scholarships for students from failing schools to attend non-failing public or private schools. Individuals and businesses would receive tax credits for contributing to these organizations.

This, critics say, is one more way for the state to support private schools. Supporters, however, say this is a way of telling those who like this idea to put their money where their convictions lie. (One wonders how many legislators will contribute to the fund. Maybe they could chip in their recent pay raise.)

This leads to bigger questions.

Will, as Gov. Robert Bentley and others suggest, the fear of losing students (and the money from the state that follows them) inspire administrators and educators at failing schools to redouble efforts and improve?
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