Governor signs accountability act

Published 1:22 pm Thursday, March 14, 2013

After the Alabama Supreme Court cleared the way, Gov. Robert Bentley on Thursday signed the controversial Alabama Accountability Act of 2013, which gives some parents a tax break for sending their children to private schools.

The bill started out as a flexibility bill supported by school superintendents and the state Department of Education, but it was changed in conference committee to include the tax breaks for families in districts with “failing” schools. The bill identifies failing schools as those in the bottom 10 percent — a list that is not certain, although some unofficial lists have put Escambia County High School as “failing.”

The tax breaks would likely average about $3,500.

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The Supreme Court ruled on the bill after an Alabama Education Association lawsuit was filed shortly after its passage. A circuit court judge stayed the legislation because of the suit.

The flexibility language, which would give school districts more control over funds and other aspects, was retained in the bill.

“For the first time ever, we’re giving all public schools the flexibility they need to better serve their students,” Bentley said in a statement.  “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.”

Bentley said the bill is good for all students.

“This also gives flexibility to children and parents by providing new options for students who are stuck in persistently low-performing schools,” he said. “All children deserve access to a quality education, no matter where they live. This provides a new option to help children receive the best education possible.”

House Minority leader Craig Ford said legal challenges to the law will continue.

“I am deeply disappointed that the governor signed this bill as is without any executive amendments. This new law will devastate our schools and cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the state’s education budget. But the legal challenges will continue, and Democrats will continue our fight to repeal this disastrous law.”

Bentley acknowledged that “concerns” have been raised about the impact of the legislation.

“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,” he said. “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.”