More questions raised about tax credit bill
More questions than answers have been raised by the Alabama legislature’s passage last week of a bill originally written to allow flexibility and innovation in the state’s K-12 public schools through the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013.

It looks like some of those questions will be answered in court. A judge Wednesday issued a restraining order to prevent the governor from signing the bill into law, pending a hearing March 15.

The Alabama Education Association challenged the way the bill was passed, claiming the actions violated both the state’s open meetings law and the legislature’s own rules.

Slightly different versions of the bill, written to allow schools more flexibility, were passed by the house and the senate. When that happens, a conference committee composed of members of each house meets to iron out the differences and resubmit the revised bills to the respective houses for a final vote.

The AEA argues that the rules of both houses indicate that when that happens, the conference committee cannot bring back a substantially different bill from their meeting. But that’s what happened. An eight-page bill became a 27-page bill with provisions for a tax credit to allow parents of children zoned for failing private schools to move their children to other schools, including private schools.

The question of legislative procedure will apparently be answered by a judge.

The substance of the bill raises other questions. While using tax credits to send students to private schools is a debatable issue, no debate took place. As far as we can tell, there was no public discussion of the plan. And apparently, some legislators voted on the bill without having a chance to read it.

The latest edition of the AEA’s Alabama School Journal headlined the move “Tyranny & Deceit,” while Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh called the judge’s ruling “judicial activism at its worst.”

If the bill does become law, a key question will be how a failing school is defined. An unofficial list compiled by Marsh’s office listed 202 schools that might meet the definition, a list that was published on a blog over the weekend.

Five schools in the Daily Home coverage area were on that list, three in the Talladega City system and two in the Talladega County system. We wanted to find out why.

Four of the schools in our area were said to be “persistently low-performing” by the state department of education in their most recent School Improvement Grant application. One was said to be listed in “the lowest ten percent of public K-12 schools” on standardized reading and math tests.

Our reporters found that none of the five met the criteria cited for their inclusion on the list.

Local school administrators also stated their schools were inaccurately designated.

The GOP leadership in Montgomery appears determined to make radical changes in K-12 education in the state. Last year’s attempt to create publicly-funded charter schools failed after much public discussion. This year a different approach was tried with no public discussion.

In an open society, public decisions should be made with public input.

© 2013