Republican lawmakers in Alabama have succeeded in passing a measure that will allow children enrolled in failing public schools to receive a tax-payer funded scholarship to attend a private school instead. The move has surprised many observers since the version of the education bill which was sent to the conference committee was dramatically different and only dealt with a policy that would have allowed certain schools to opt out of some education policies.
The bill that the committee returned contained not only the flexibility measures that were part of the previous version, but also – to the surprise of many – provisions for vouchers to be be made available in Alabama for the first time. The revised bill was overwhelmingly approved both in the House of Representatives and the The Senate and is widely expected to be signed by Governor Robert Bentley.
"I truly believe this is historic education reform and it will benefit students and families across Alabama regardless of their income and regardless of where they live," Bentley said in a press conference tonight.
"I'm so proud we have done this for the children of this state and especially the children who are in failing school systems and had no way out. Now, they have a way out," Bentley said.
Prior to the vote on the bill, Democrat Senator Quinton Ross accused his Republican colleagues of practicing not democracy but "hypocrisy" for overhauling the bill behind closed doors without debate or input from the minority party.
Representative Thomas Jackson, another Democrat from Thomasville, used even stronger language, describing the maneuver – which he now suspects has been in the planning for some time – as sleazy.
Rep. Mary Moore, D-Birmingham, as she was leaving the House chamber threw her hands over her head and shouted, "Welcome to the new confederacy where a bunch of white men are now going to take over black schools."
Republicans said the bill would free children from the bondage that comes with a poor education.
"For many of these children, what we are doing tonight is life-altering," Rep. Jack Williams, R-Vestavia Hills, said.
The opposition to the bill as passed wasn't limited to Democratic lawmakers. After the changes had been made public, both the State Superintendent Tommy Bice and the Alabama Association of School Boards disavowed the measure, saying that the legislators hadn't run the changes past the education administrators in the state. In a statement Bice said that the changes mooted by the law will have a negative impact on public schools in Alabama by stripping from them the funding that they need to succeed.