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Alabama judge rules against school choice program

By   /   May 30, 2014  /   No Comments

By Mary C. Tillotson | Watchdog.org

Alabama students who come from low-income families and are assigned to schools the state regards as “failing” should stay in those schools, a trial court judge ruled.

An attorney representing parents in the lawsuit said they plan to appeal the decision from Wednesday.

“We’re pretty confident that we’ll ultimately prevail,” said Dick Komer, senior attorney for the Institute for Justice. “We also think we have a good shot at getting a temporary stay of the injunction,” or a ruling allowing the program to continue during the court cases.

In 2013, lawmakers passed the Alabama Accountability Act, which allows the state’s residents and corporations to take tax credits for donations they make to scholarship-granting nonprofits. Those nonprofits distribute the private money in the form of scholarships to low-income families whose children are assigned to failing schools. Those students use the scholarship money for private-school tuition.

An Alabama judge ruled against the state's school choice program, but attorneys representing parents plan to appeal.

An Alabama judge ruled against the state’s school choice program, but attorneys representing parents plan to appeal.

Of the three lawsuits initially filed against the program, two have been dismissed. In the remaining lawsuit, the trial court judge put the program on hold until the courts sort out the constitutionality of the program.

“Today’s ruling is disappointing and another example of the status quo fighting to block children from attending quality schools of their parents’ choice,” said Kevin P. Chavous, executive counsel to the American Federation for Children, in a statement. “It’s shameful that a teachers’ union would put their interests ahead of what’s best for Alabama’s children. Too many children from low-income families are trapped in underperforming schools and the Alabama Tax Credit Scholarship program provides a necessary lifeline to these children.”

Money that has already been donated can be distributed to students, but no new donations can receive tax credits.

“It’s not going to take away scholarships from kids who are already awarded them, but they’re not going to get tax credits next year,” Komer said. “We hope by then we will have won on appeal and that the program will be upheld as constitutional and go forward.”

The Alabama Education Association and the state’s Department of Revenue, which administers the tax credits, did not return calls for comment.

Contact Mary C. Tillotson at mtillotson@watchdog.org

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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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