by Brian Washington/Photo courtesy WFIU
The state of Alabama is catching legal heat over the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA), a law educators say is “ill-conceived and illegal” and will have a huge negative impact on students, public schools, and the entire state.
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Within the last month, two lawsuits have been filed against the law, which is expected to reduce public education funding by $40 million. The AAA authorizes a tax credit worth up to $3500 for expenses incurred by parents who transfer their children from a designated “failing” public school to an accredited private school or “non-failing” public school. It also creates a $25 million tax credit voucher program that authorizes tax credits worth up to $7500 for individuals and 50% of the tax liability for corporations that make donations to voucher-granting organizations.
A lawsuit recently filed by Anita Gibson, president of the Alabama Education Association (AEA), along with a state Senator and the superintendent of the Lowndes County Public School System alleges that the legislation violates the state’s constitution. The 10-count complaint touches upon three problem areas:
- Violations in how the law was passed;
- Violations in earmarking of funds; and
- Violations regarding public funds being used for charitable and religious institutions.
“Regardless of how many students actually relocate to private schools, $40 million have been set aside to fund this law,” said AEA Associate Executive Secretary Dr. Gregory Graves in a press statement. “The role of public education funding in Alabama is to educate our children, not to provide welfare to private schools. The Alabama Accountability Act takes money from all of Alabama’s children that need it and redistributes it to a small number of private schools which is a clear violation of our state’s constitution.”
“Across Alabama parents are being asked to buy toilet tissue, paper towels, hand sanitizer and other items because our schools can’t afford them. Hoover (a city in the north central part of the state) has decided to cut its bus service because of a lack of funding, yet the governor is asking Alabamians to pick up the tab for their tax give away. Left unchallenged, the cost of this act to taxpayers will continue to grow to astronomical levels at the expense of Alabama’s public schools.”
The AAA is also the subject of a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which is asking the federal court to permanently block the legislation because it discriminates against poor children, who can’t afford to attend private schools and, because of the inadequate funding of public education, have very few options when it comes to non-failing public schools. The SPLC charges the AAA creates two classes of students assigned to failing schools—those who can escape them because of their parents’ income or where they live and those who cannot. The suit charges this violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
“More than ever, a quality education is critical in today’s world,” said SPLC President Richard Cohen. “It shouldn’t depend on how much your parents make or where you live.”
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