Despite raising nearly $25 million under the Alabama Accountability Act of 2013, the state awarded just 0.1% of it in scholarships last year, with only nine such scholarships actually awarded.
According to information from the Alabama State Department of Revenue, only $25,000 of the $25 million collected by seven organizations was used
Officials at the revenue department claim the low amount is due to people not having enough time to apply for the scholarships as the act was passed in February 2013, but organizations did not start to collect funds until that summer.
Sonya DiCarlo, spokeswoman for the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund (ASOF), reported the organization had a limited time frame last year, but has already awarded more than 1,300 scholarships in 2014, writes Mike Cason for Alabama Local News, and has received 11,000 applicants.
"The legislation was under litigation much of last year," said Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, a supporter of the act. "I know we met several people who have benefited from it."
The act, created in 2013, gave a $3,500 tax credit for families wanting to leave a "failing" public school, to allow them to enter a private one, and included a scholarship component to help cover tuition costs, writes Mary Sell for The Decatur Daily. Families must make no more than 150% of the state's average household income of $41,000.
Applicants have an average household income of $30,144 for a family of four. About 67% are minorities.
Six of the nine students to receive the scholarship in 2013 went to a public school. Five were from "failing" schools.
Money from the scholarships is obtained through donations from local businesses and individuals, who can receive a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for the donation. The most credits allowed under the law are $25 million. Opponents to the act claim this money is misplaced, as it would have gone to the Education Trust Fund to help public schools.
"(That money) came out of the Education Trust Fund, which is unconscionable," said Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia. "And then to only have nine scholarships. I'm sure they'll say there will be more down the road, but this is just a raid on public education.
The money collected is managed by non-profit scholarship granting organizations, which are allowed to keep 5% of the money collected, which would come to a sum of $1.25 million.
In May of this year, a Montgomery judge ruled that the act violated the state constitution when it was challenged by the Alabama Education Association, the state teacher's organization. State lawyers are currently appealing the motion to the Alabama Supreme Court, placing the ruling on hold.
The AOSF has raised $17.8 million this year in scholarship funds from 25 contributors.
"Thousands of parents with little means, from 59 Alabama counties this year, are hoping to find a better fit for their children," said Lesley Searcy, executive director of the AOSF. "This program gives them the chance to do that for the first time."