Legal institute fights Alabama union’s attempt to repeal school tax credit

By   /   October 17, 2013  /   No Comments

Part 13 of 126 in the series Educating America

By Mary C. Tillotson | Watchdog.org

The Institute for Justice hopes to give families a voice in the fight against an effort to take down Alabama’s tax credit program that helps students escape failing schools.

FRIVOLOUS: Bert Gall of the Institute for Justice said lawsuits against Alabama's school choice program don't hold water

FRIVOLOUS: Bert Gall of the Institute for Justice said lawsuits against Alabama’s school choice program don’t hold water

“They’re the direct beneficiaries of school choice programs. That’s why it’s important to be involved in the litigation to defend their unique interest in providing educational opportunities for their kids,” said Bert Gall, a senior attorney at the institute.

Alabama’s schools have struggled, with only 25 percent of fourth graders proficient in math or reading, 24 percent of eighth graders proficient in reading, and 17 percent of eighth graders proficient in math in 2011.

The Alabama Accountability Act, enacted earlier this year, allows individuals and corporations to receive tax credits for donations to scholarship-granting organizations. Low-income students can receive those scholarships to attend nonpublic schools.

The act also allows parents to receive a tax credit for the tuition they pay at nonpublic schools if their children are assigned to a failing public school.

The Alabama Education Association, the state’s powerful teachers union, has filed three separate lawsuits against the program. The first two, which the state supreme court dismissed, complained that the law was not passed in accordance with the state’s Open Meetings Act.

The third alleges the state is directing public money to private schools, among other complaints.

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit in federal court pertaining to the “equal protection” clause of the 14th Amendment. Since some families live in areas where it’s hard to participate, the program is not equally available to everyone, their lawsuit alleges, according to IJ attorney Arif Panju.

INDEPENDENCE: No public money goes to private schools unless parents independently choose to do so, says Arif Panju at the Institute for Justice.

INDEPENDENCE: No public money goes to private schools unless parents independently choose to do so, says Arif Panju at the Institute for Justice.

SPLC did not return repeated calls for comment.

The Institute for Justice is intervening on behalf of Alabama parents in AEA’s third suit.

“We chose not to intervene in the SPLC [lawsuit] because we believe it’s not substantive in any way,” Gall said. “We believe the AEA legislation will fail under controlling precedent, and the AEA’s lawsuit is borderline frivolous. The SPLC’s lawsuit is just plain frivolous.”

AEA technology coordinator Katherine Robinson provided a statement to Watchdog.org attributed to spokeswoman Amy Marlow.

“The AEA is not surprised by the motion to intervene in our lawsuit challenging the Alabama Accountability Act,” the statement reads. “This is an orchestrated political maneuver that was shopped around to attorneys throughout Alabama and has finally been filed by attorneys from outside the state. It is not coincidental that the person filing the lawsuit, Danyal Jones, is a former staff member for Twinkle Cavanaugh.”

Robinson said AEA was not willing to answer follow-up questions, discuss the case, or say anything except what was in the statement.

IJ is representing Jones and two other parents who are sending their children to private schools under the act. Jones has served as a clerk for Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, president of the Public Service Commission and a Republican, according to the Montgomery Advertiser. Jones has said the connection is coincidental.

The current AEA suit includes 10 complaints. Three involve procedural issues with how the law was passed, four involve the movement of tax dollars, and three concern issues of public money funding private or religious schools.

“The key thing is that the school choice program gives the parents their own independent choice, so the money doesn’t go to the private school itself but for the genuine and independent choice of the parents,” Panju said.

Gall compared this to receiving a Social Security check and donating some of the money to a church, which no one finds constitutionally problematic.

In a 1979 case, the Alabama Supreme Court upheld a program that gave tuition grants to the state’s students attending in-state colleges, including private and religious ones, though the program had been challenged based on the same religion question, according to IJ’s litigation backgrounder.

The court’s opinion in that case can be read here.

That case offers strong precedent for the current case, Panju said.

Contact Mary C. Tillotson at mtillotson@watchdog.org.

Part of 126 in the series Educating America
  1. Arizona mom won’t give up on special needs kids, no matter what state says
  2. Reviving a 1970s lawsuit, DOJ would keep black students in failing schools
  3. Relocating sexually abusive teachers would be more difficult under Pennsylvania bill
  4. DOJ backpedals on Louisiana voucher lawsuit
  5. Court says charter schools won’t pay for Atlanta’s pension debts
  6. Biggest education impact from shutdown? Furloughed bureaucrats
  7. Appeals court upholds Arizona school choice program
  8. Indiana’s voucher program expands; diversity a factor in one family’s choice of school
  9. ‘Vouchers don’t do much good for students’ claim is false
  10. NYC mayor’s race could affect school choice
  11. Vermont public school goes independent, raises ire from state bureaucracy
  12. Arizona education savings accounts aren’t vouchers, study says
  13. Legal institute fights Alabama union’s attempt to repeal school tax credit
  14. Experts: School choice improves education in public schools
  15. SC school-choice program helps special needs kids, could expand
  16. DOJ wants Louisiana parents out of voucher lawsuit
  17. U.S. House passes bill to prevent ‘passing the trash’
  18. ‘Non-traditional’ journalists barred from viewing tax-funded test results early
  19. New center hopes to help charter schools help kids with special needs
  20. Charter school advocate to Philadelphia schools: Listen to parents
  21. $45 million not enough for Philadelphia teachers’ union
  22. Study: Rhode Islanders support school choice
  23. Study: Choice would help failing Chicago schools
  24. Scholarships could lift SC school dedicated to real-life, hands-on learning
  25. Parents make good school choices, study says
  26. Divisive charter school reform bill headed toward vote in PA
  27. In Louisiana school voucher lawsuit, DOJ changes gears
  28. Opponents sue Washington to overturn charter school law
  29. School choice proponents’ challenge? Educating parents
  30. Judge: Federal oversight may not hamper school voucher program
  31. PA lawmakers push to amend tight teacher furlough policies
  32. College ready: A Milwaukee inner-city school success story
  33. Proposed economic furloughs could slay sacred cow of seniority in Pennsylvania schools
  34. What is Massachusetts doing right?
  35. Goldwater to appeal Louisiana school voucher decision
  36. Want to end poverty? Educate the kids
  37. Breakdown in Philly schools not only about the money
  38. North Carolina scholarship program on firm legal footing, attorney argues
  39. Philadelphia school district threatens charters
  40. Belief in student ability key to success at Milwaukee charter school
  41. Three things to know about Philadelphia’s school budget: Debt, pensions and safety
  42. Choosing to sue: Here’s a look at some 2013 lawsuits involving school choice
  43. Philly charter schools outperform district counterparts
  44. California students sue state over ineffective teachers
  45. Study: Public supports parent choice in education
  46. Under new management, Philly Renaissance Schools show growth
  47. New Orleans tops school choice index
  48. AZ to consider four school-choice expansion bills
  49. Florida family ‘blessed’ to be apart of scholarship program
  50. PA lawmakers put education at top of agenda in election year
  51. Louisiana: Feds ‘more interested in skin color than … education’
  52. Charter school for Philadelphia foster children will not be renewed
  53. Governor ties proposed PA education funding to targeted grants
  54. WA’s first charter school serves children, families of ‘extreme poverty’
  55. Vermont attempts to take independence from independent schools
  56. Philly stumbles on way to simplifying enrollment system
  57. Plan for Philly schools keeps charters in check
  58. Missouri ballot initiative would increase funding for public, private schools
  59. New York charter school focuses on family, community
  60. NC school vouchers on hold
  61. WI voucher bill would help special needs students denied open enrollment
  62. Philadelphia schools will end another year in red
  63. PA universities expect state, students to pick up tab on rising tuition
  64. Two ESA bills get House support in AZ
  65. Thousands rally to support New York charter schools
  66. California’s defense begins in Vergara trial
  67. Accountability or overregulation? Charter supporters split over Minnesota bill
  68. PA considers empowering universities to authorize charter schools
  69. Bill would make Florida students eligible for scholarships
  70. To test or not to test? Florida school choice proponents split
  71. Philly school district broke, but the pay is good
  72. Philadelphia charter school sues public school district
  73. Colorado Supreme Court to hear school voucher case
  74. Vermont to reconsider education funding formula
  75. Arizona Supreme Court allows school choice program to stand
  76. Massachusetts charter school bill revived
  77. Quality schools matter more than racial integration, black leaders say
  78. FL again takes up school-choice bill
  79. Choice Media’s videocast tackles host of education issues
  80. Ending teacher seniority rules beyond Philly requires legislative action
  81. New website helps Detroit parents choose schools
  82. Philly schools caught on funding merry-go-round
  83. Louisiana bill would coordinate school choice programs
  84. New D.C. charter school lottery eases but doesn’t eliminate waiting lists
  85. Federal bill attempts to help replicate high-quality state charter schools
  86. Philadelphia schools awaiting taxes from city, state
  87. ACLU alleges discrimination in 138 NJ districts
  88. MN anti-bullying bill could have unintended consequences
  89. Mississippi’s special needs bill to return next year
  90. Illinois considers three-year ban on virtual charter schools
  91. Violent Philly high school source of worry
  92. Auditors examining troubled Philadelphia school district
  93. Civil liberties organization sues to overturn anti-bullying law
  94. Legal conflict over teacher seniority in Philly heats up
  95. Academics, culture help mom choose private school
  96. PA cyber charter schools could be funded by state, not districts
  97. Arizona expands school choice program
  98. The sticky statistic of statewide charter school performance in PA
  99. Louisiana offers new vocational technical program
  100. Benefits are driving high personnel costs in Philadelphia schools
  101. Educators look to grow with expanding Hispanic demographic
  102. Philadelphia flexes muscle over charter schools
  103. Philly school district facing another bleak budget
  104. Andre Agassi dedicates Indianapolis charter school
  105. For PA and neighboring states, school spending and graduation rates don’t add up
  106. At long last, PA school buses could be getting a boost
  107. Arizona charter schools need funding fix, proponents say
  108. Progress reports for Philadelphia schools show uneven achievement
  109. Teachers union opposes ‘Bad Teachers’
  110. Governor’s plans to boost education funding falls short
  111. Georgia’s school-choice program draws legal challenge
  112. Missouri parents want more choice in education
  113. U.S. lawmakers to consider charter school bill
  114. Florida’s school choice expansion awaits governor’s signature
  115. PA charter schools may see drop in funding with new special education formula
  116. In Nevada, your child’s school records could cost $10K
  117. AG, lawmakers propose similar updates to PA charter school rules
  118. NC school voucher program gets temporary green light
  119. Philly school district’s lack of transparency frustrates families
  120. Bullying motivates many parents to home-school, attorney says
  121. Philadelphia City Council gambles to fund schools
  122. PA Supreme Court pushes forward charter school’s lawsuit against Philly
  123. Feds consider joining school choice game
  124. Florida’s new school choice law likely to spark others
  125. California teacher reform lawsuit sparks copycat, more likely to come
  126. School choice is popular — when parents know about it
  127. What can private schools learn from charters?

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Mary C. Tillotson is a national education reporter for Watchdog.org. She has reported for School Reform News, published by the Heartland Institute, and The St. Ignace News in northern Michigan. Contact Mary at mtillotson@watchdog.org.

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