The Alabama Supreme Court has overturned a previous ruling by a lower court concerning the constitutionality of the Alabama Accountability Act.
Last May found Montgomery County Circuit Judge Gene Reese ruling that the school choice law, which had originally been passed by the Legislature in 2013 in an effort to help families afford private schooling, was in violation of a number of constitutional requirements.
However, the Supreme Court decided that the law did not, in fact, violate any restrictions on public funding to private religious schools because the tax credits go to parents and scholarship program donors, not to schools. In addition, they ruled that the Republican lawmakers were acting legally when they passed the bill the same day it had been introduced.
In a press release, House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) said, “ The Supreme Court Ruling on the Alabama Accountability Act is a win for parents, a win for students, and a win for school choice in the state of Alabama. I look forward to hearing even more success stories as this law continues to work in our state. We are committed to expanding school choice in Alabama until every child has the chance at a quality education regardless of their income or zip code.”
The Accountability Act provides income-tax credits, which works out to a dollar-for-dollar reduction on tax bills, in order to help parents afford private school for those children currently enrolled in a public school labeled as “failing.” Tax credits are also available for individuals and corporations that choose to donate to scholarship programs that will help parents afford private schooling.
While the ruling came as a win for those who originally passed the measure and who argued that parents should have the capability to choose where their child is educated, critics insist that the policy encourages inappropriate use of public tax dollars.
“It’s no surprise that an all-Republican court upheld Republican legislation,” said House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden. “I imagine this will continue to be appealed and is not over yet.”
The law was challenged by a Democratic state senator and a county school superintendent who felt the program is merely public support for private schooling by making use of reimbursements in place of direct funding to achieve their goal.
Although the Accountability Act offers scholarships to children enrolled in “failing” public schools first, other students can be offered scholarships if there are leftover funds.
So far, the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund, the largest scholarship organization in the state, has awarded 2,830 scholarships in this school year. About 50% of those went to students enrolled in “failing” schools, with the others going to low-income students in other public schools.