Law & Courts

Alabama Gov. Signs Tax-Credit Bill, But Teachers’ Union Vows Fight

By Andrew Ujifusa — March 15, 2013 2 min read

In case you missed it, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley signed the controversial tax-credit school-choice plan that GOP lawmakers initially approved Feb. 28, following a decision by the state Supreme Court on Thursday not to hold up the law for further review.

The bill allows parents of students at schools graded D or F by the state to claim (delete) up a tax-credit of up to 80 percent of the state’s per-pupil spending, the equivalent of about $3,500, and use the funds to enroll their children at nonfailing public or private schools. Individuals and corporations can donate money to pay for these students’ tuition and receive tax credits for their donations.(You can also read my story about the tax-credit legislation.)

Democrats cried foul after the bill passed the GOP-controlled legislature, saying that Republicans tacked the school-choice plan onto a separate bill without proper notice or discussion and essentially snuck it through the statehouse. The Alabama Education Association, a state teachers’ union, filed suit to stop it from being sent to the governor, saying that the way in which it was passed broke open meetings laws and other rules governing lawmakers. State Superintendent of Education Tommy Bice expressed concerns about the bill as well. Montgomery Circuit Court Judge Charles Price agreed to at least briefly halt the bill, but Republicans appealed to the highest court in Alabama.

The court made its decision March 14, and Bentley, a Republican, signed it the same day. He had this to say about the bill, which also includes options for districts seeking flexibility from some state regulations about policy: “The most important thing right now is to make sure our schools, our families and our children have the tools they need. This bill gives them that flexibility.”

But the AEA may not be done in the courts. As Kim Chandler reports for alabama.com, the AEA plans to sue again in an attempt to overturn the law, and might explore whether dramatically changing a bill passed by both chambers to shoehorn in the school-choice plan violated the state’s constitution. As I mentioned in my March 12 story, the state’s so-called Blaine Amendment, which prohibits public dollars from going to “sectarian” schools, might be used as a cudgel by AEA against the law, although tax-credit plans don’t provide direct aid to religious schools, so the legal arguments can become tricky.

On March 15, I did a radio interview with WERC, an FM station based in Birmingham, to talk about the new school-choice plan Bentley signed, and how it compares to those in other states.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.