Scholarships help more students move from public to private scho - Alabamas13.com WVTM-TV Birmingham, AL

Scholarships help more students move from public to private schools

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. — More students are moving from public to private schools thanks to the Accountability Act.

The Act has increased donations allowing more students to enroll in private schools. One Birmingham based scholarship group, Scholarships for Kids, said 16 students have enrolled at Churchill Academy in Montgomery using scholarships from her help.

The Legislature passed the Alabama Accountability Act in February 2013, and it was instituted for the start of the 2013-2014 school year. It allows students in the 78 public schools rated as failing by the state Department of Education to move to any non-failing school or to a participating private school. It provides parents with a $3,500 annual tax credit to help cover their costs.

The law also allows the creation of scholarship organizations to award scholarships to children to attend private school. Until Sept. 15 of each year, the scholarships are targeted for children leaving failing public schools. After that, money can go to parents making less than 150 percent of the median household income, no matter where their children have been enrolled. That figure is about $62,000.

The law gave businesses and individuals a 100 percent tax credit for donations to the scholarship organizations, and it capped the tax credits at $25 million per year. The state Revenue Department reports business and individuals committed the $25 million limit for 2013.

An attorney for the Alabama Education Association, which is challenging the law in court, said it's deceptive to describe the money raised as contributions because the donors get every dollar back through the tax credits.

For the fall semester, the state Department of Education reported 52 students left failing public schools to attend private schools under the Alabama Accountability Act. Figures aren't available for the spring semester, but supporters of the law expect a dramatic growth for the 2014-2015 school year.

A federal judge heard arguments Tuesday in a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and a state court judge heard arguments Thursday in a lawsuit filed by AEA, the state teachers' organization.

Montgomery Circuit Judge Gene Reese gave attorneys two weeks to submit proposed orders and said he will rule afterward.

AEA's attorneys said the state Constitution allows only one subject in a bill, while the Accountability Act has two subjects. They said one subject gives public schools flexibility in complying with state regulations, and the other provides tax credits to parents moving children from failing public schools to private schools.
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