MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- So far, 36 schools have signed up to participate in Alabama's new private school tax credit program with less than two weeks to go before most schools start classes.
The schools that have signed up with the Alabama Department of Revenue are mostly church-related, and they stretch from Huntsville to Mobile. Alabama has more than 500 private schools.
Randy Skipper, executive director of the Alabama Independent School Association, said he didn't expect lots of private schools to sign up initially because of unknowns about the new program and concerns state regulations could be placed on them.
"That's the whole point of being independent," he said.
The Alabama Accountability Act, passed by the Legislature in February, kicks in with the 2013-2014 school year. It provides tax credits of about $3,500 to parents to help cover the cost of moving a child from one of Alabama's 78 failing public schools to private schools participating in the program. Participation is voluntary.
To participate, private schools have to agree to take not only students whose parents are using the tax credits, but also students who receive privately funded scholarships provided under the new law.
The Revenue Department's proposed regulations interpreting the Accountability Act say the tax credits don't apply to children who were already attending private schools even if they were zoned for failing public schools. The department has a public hearing Thursday in Montgomery on its proposed regulations, but those regulations may not be final for a few months.
The primary architect of the tax credits, Republican Sen. Del Marsh of Anniston, said he does not expect private schools to participate fully until the 2014-2015 school year because the list of failing schools and the proposed regulations got finished so close to the start of the new school year.
"There has been a lot of misunderstanding that schools would lose their private status if they signed up," he said.
Marsh, who is president pro tem of the Senate, said Republican legislative leaders are discussing whether they need to make changes to the law in the next legislative session. Among the possible changes is whether the law should apply to students in private schools before the law's passage.
"I think if you are in a failing system, you should be able to take advantage of it," Marsh said.
Many of Alabama's public schools start classes around Aug. 19.