Governor signs “Flex” bill

Published 12:10 pm Thursday, March 14, 2013

Gov. Robert Bentley on Thursday signed the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013, which allows parents of children in “failing” public schools to get a tax credit if they place those children in private school.

The original eight-page school flexibility act had been backed by superintendents, school boards and the state department of education when it passed each chamber of the legislature. But the bill tripled in size and changed in scope during a legislative conference committee meeting Feb. 28.

At the end of the night, lawmakers voted to give tax credits to parents who choose to send students to private schools rather than “failing” public schools in their districts.

The new version of the bill includes these provisions:

• Parents of students who attend “failing” public schools would be allowed a tax credit of 80 percent of the tuition at a private school; those who are in “failing” districts who already send their children to private schools would be eligible for the tax credit.

• Loosely defines “failing” as a school that falls in the bottom 10 percent for standardized testing scores, or as one that earns an “F” or three consecutive “Ds” in a yet-to-be-determined state grading system.

• Private schools would not be forced to accept students;

• Parents could receive the tax credit every year until the student graduated, whether the school is considered “failing” for all of those years or not; and

• Students could also apply for scholarships to attend private schools.

A new fund in the Education Trust Fund will be set aside for these tax credits.

Local educators and state education organizations both opposed the amended version of the bill. A Montgomery circuit judge blocked Bentley from signing the bill, but the Alabama Supreme Court this week gave the governor the go-ahead.

Bentley maintains it is a good bill.

“For the first time ever, we’re giving all public schools the flexibility they need to better serve their students,” Governor Bentley said. “Every school can now develop new ideas that come from their local teachers and their local principals and then put those ideas into practice. Local educators deserve the freedom and opportunity to make their schools better. That’s what this legislation provides.”

“Some concerns have been raised regarding the impact of this legislation,” Bentley said. “The Department of Revenue and the State Department of Education are reviewing this bill and can develop responsible rules and regulations to address various concerns. 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.”