Gov. Robert Bentley Thursday morning signed a controversial bill that would allow families of students in failing schools to claim tax credits if they transfer to a private school or to a non-failing public school.
The governor said at a press conference he hoped the legislation would encourage all schools in the state to work toward improvements, and said he believed any issues could be addressed through regulations developed by the Alabama State Department of Education and the Department of Revenue.
“I think it’s a great bill,” Bentley said at a press conference Thursday morning. “Does it have some problems with it? Sure. All bills have problems. But we’ll work through that.”
Bentley added later that “anything (the Legislature) wants to do to improve this bill, I’m for it.”
House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, said in a statement that he was “deeply disappointed” the legislation was signed without any amendments.
“This new law will devastate our schools and cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the state’s education budget,” the statement said. “But the legal challenges will continue, and Democrats will continue our fight to repeal this disastrous law.”
The bill also allows schools districts to apply for waivers from certain state education laws, such as those governing teacher certification. It also allows individuals and companies to deduct contributions made to “scholarship granting organizations” (SGOs) from their income taxes. Those contributions are capped at $25 million a year; there is no cap on the credits families of students in failing schools can take.
A message left with the ALSDE was not immediately returned Thursday. The credit — 80 percent of the cost of educating a student — would have been worth $3,553 in the 2011-12 school year, according to ALSDE.
The School Superintendents of Alabama (SSA) has estimated the bill will cost between $50 million and $125 million a year; the Alabama Association of School Boards (AASB) has estimated the cost at $59 million to $367 million, depending on the size of the credit and how many people take advantage of it.
The legislation defines a “failing school” as one designated as such by the state superintendent; one that receives an ‘F’ or three straight ‘Ds’ on a school grading system under development by ALSDE; or one that is in the bottom 10 percent of testing scores around the state. The SSA has estimated that will mean there will always be at least 150 schools listed as failing.
“I think that is one of the issues the Department of Education will have to look at,” Bentley said. “If there are problems with this bill that cannot be addressed by regulations, the Legislature can come back and remedy that.”
– posted by Brian Lyman