Senate Democrats renew call for Accountability Act repeal

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State Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery(Amanda Sowards/ Montgomery Advertiser)

State Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery(Amanda Sowards/ Montgomery Advertiser)

On the heels of a dust-up between Gov. Robert Bentley and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, over proposed changes to the state’s controversial Accountability Act, Senate Democrats Friday reiterated their position on the law: Get rid of it.

“You can’t fix a bad bill, and the only thing we can do to help the children of Alabama and education in Alabama is for the Governor to kill this bill,” said Sen. Billy Beasley, D-Clayton, at a press conference Friday morning.

However, Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, a former Senate Finance and Taxation Education committee budget chairman, said that the Senate Democratic caucus had not come to an agreement over whether or not to support Bentley’s proposal to delay implementation of tax credits for families of children in schools listed as failing, to be used for private or non-public schools.

“I think the struggle for various people is when something is this bad, do you concentrate all your energies on killing it, or do you simply say that in two years you might be better able to repeal it and kill it,” he said. “I can not deny that politics is central issue here. It was a central issue from the beginning, but it was made central by the supermajority. The way they conceived it, the way they gave birth to it, the way they brought it to full fruition.”

Democrats have made their displeasure known since the original legislation, known as HB 84, passed on Feb. 28, shortly after Republicans introduced a radically rewritten school flexibility bill in a conference committee that included the tax credits, worth an estimated $3,500 per student. The minority party has said the legislation will not help students in failing schools while giving private ones public dollars. Republicans have said the measure would encourage improvements in public education and give students trapped in failing schools the chance to get out.

Bentley, who signed the bill on March 14 after the Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit by the Alabama Education Association over its passage, said Wednesday he was looking to delay implementation of the tax credits for two years, saying the state needed to prioritize repayment of the Rainy Day Account in the Alabama Trust Fund.

Marsh, saying he “refused “to kick the can down the road any longer” on offering students school choice, announced Thursday he would kill Bentley’s changes to the Act.

It is not yet clear what the House of Representatives, which will receive the legislation first, will do. If the House goes along with Marsh, a bill altering definitions of failing schools and making it clear schools would not have to accept students who qualify for the credits would take effect. If the House sides with Bentley, those changes would be dead, and the original act would remain in place.

As they have previously, Democrats at the press conference Friday accused Bentley of attempting to delay implementation simply to take the issue off the table for the 2014 elections next year.

“Now (Bentley) has seen the light and he wants to do something about HB 84,” said Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery. “But when he stood at this podium on Feb. 28, he told the people of Alabama and he told the minority that we should get over it.”

Asked why Democrats would not vote to delay implementation of a bill they have said would have dire consequences for public education, Sanders said it would not be enough.

“I think this bill has become a symbol, and when something becomes a symbol, it doesn’t matter when you make changes in it,” he said. “The only way you can deal with a symbol is to repeal it, to crush it, to kill it.”

Sanders said that if Bentley did manage to delay implementation of the act, he should reallocate $40 million budget for its expenses toward an additional one percent teachers’ pay raise.

– posted by Brian Lyman

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