by Brian Washington
A program that pro-public education activists have called a throwback to the 1950s–a time when Alabama tried avoiding integration by directing public school funds to private schools–has been ruled unconstitutional by a Montgomery County circuit court judge.
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The Alabama Accountability Act of 2013 targeted students attending public schools that the state deemed “failing.” Instead of providing real solutions to help all students gain access to a quality public education, the Accountability Act starved public schools of critical funding.
The law created a tax-credit program that used public dollars to reimburse the cost of tuition to those parents who pulled their children out of public schools and enrolled them in private or religious schools. Tax credits were also given to companies and individuals who gave money to certain organizations to fund scholarships for low-income students to attend private schools.
The program cost taxpayers $40 million during the 2013-14 fiscal year, yet, studies show that voucher and tuition tax-credit schemes don’t result in a better education for students.
The Alabama Education Association (AEA), which represents teachers and education support professionals throughout the state, and the National Education Association (NEA), which has about 3 million educators as members, challenged the constitutionality of the law in court. AEA and NEA charged that the legislation’s passage violated various procedural requirements within the state’s constitution and said its school-choice provisions were an impermissible use of public funds. The court agreed.
Today’s ruling was a victory for school children, educators, and community schools throughout Alabama that lost crucial funding due to the enactment of the Accountability Act,” said AEA Associate Executive Secretary Dr. Greg Graves, who said he was confident all along that the group’s legal arguments would prevail against the flawed law. “As always, AEA will continue to protect Alabama’s public schools from those who wish them harm.
In his ruling, Circuit Court Judge Gene Reese said the law also violated the constitution on other grounds as well. For example, he said it gave public funds to charitable or educational institutions not under state control. He also said the law created a “new debt” by adding a cost to a law that originally had no cost and was intended to give schools more flexibility.
Reese’s ruling does not impact tax credits for the 2013-14 school year. Voucher proponents are expected to appeal the ruling, which will likely send the case to the Alabama Supreme Court.