Time for a tune-up: Lawmakers tinkering under the hood of the Alabama Accountability Act
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Apr 25, 2013 | 2926 views |  0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Not wanting opponents to derail their plans, Republicans in the Alabama Legislature rewrote a bill in secret, passed it quickly, and before anyone could raise more than rudimentary objections, the Alabama Accountability Act was law.

So, the state had a law offering tax credits for parents who take their children out of “failing” schools and enroll them in successful public or private ones. The state’s residents also had looks of puzzlement on their faces.

Apparently, the conspirators who pulled this off expected most Alabamians to see the wisdom of what they had done and get on board with it.

Many Alabamians haven’t.

After a firestorm of protest over the financial impact that the ill-named Alabama Accountability Act would have on public education, Statehouse advocates decided to listen to the public (which they had tried to avoid doing) and make changes.

No one promised that the changes would actually make the bill better, but few expected they would actually make it worse.

Well, in one regard, worse is the winner.

During the discussions it was apparent that there was confusion was over whether the act would allow parents whose children are enrolled in private schools to take advantage of the tax credit that was being offered to parents whose students are zoned into a “failing” school and want to move them out.

Supporters of the plan said that parents of students enrolled in a private school were indeed eligible for the tax credit. The state Department of Education said those parents were not.

To clarify this, the supporters wrote their interpretation into the amended act and the Senate Education Policy Committee approved it this week. Now parents with students in private schools are eligible for the tax credit.

If the purpose of the act is to help students get out of “failing” schools and into schools that are not failing, parents with students currently enrolled in private schools should be required to show that the public school in which their students were zoned was “failing” (as defined in the amended bill) at the time they enrolled their students in the private school.

In many cases, white students have been in private academies for years, enrolled not because the public school was failing but because the majority of the public school students were black. Some students in the all-white academies have never been in public schools. To get the tax credit, parents of those students must show that the decision to go to a private school was based on academics and not some other factor.

To allow a tax credit to parents who send their students to private schools for reasons other than academics would go against what supporters of the bill claim it is intended to do. Those who are working to make this a better bill still have an opportunity to clarify this.
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