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Ala. senator offers changes to school tax credits

Phillip Rawls, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- An architect of Alabama's new law on private school tax credits is proposing some changes to answer questions raised by educators and parents.

The Senate Education Committee has scheduled a public hearing Tuesday on the legislation sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston. Committee Chairman Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery, said Marsh requested the public hearing to make sure the bill had plenty of discussion.

The Republican-controlled Legislature voted along party lines Feb. 28 to provide state income tax credits to parents who choose to enroll their children in a private school or non-failing public school rather than send them to the failing school where they are assigned. The bill passed quickly after Republicans cut off debate by Democrats.

The latest version of Marsh's bill clarifies some parts of the new law that raised questions, his spokesman, Derek Trotter, said Monday.

The bill makes clear that a failing school is listed in the lowest 10 percent of public schools on the state standardized assessment in reading and math for three consecutive years or has earned an "F'' or three consecutive "Ds" on a school grading system that is being developed.

It also provides that if a student transfers from a failing school to a private school, the failing school won't lose all the state funding that it had previously received for that student. Instead, it will get to keep about one-fifth.

Another provision requires that a student in a failing school who wants to transfer to a non-failing public school must first attempt to enroll in a non-failing school in his local school system before attempting to enroll in a school outside his own system.

The bill also provides that no public or private school shall be forced to enroll a student merely because the student's parent receives an income tax credit under the new law.

The bill also stipulates that the new tax credit law can't override school desegregation orders. About 40 of Alabama's 134 school systems remain under such orders, said Eric Mackey, executive director of the School Superintendents of Alabama.

Mackey and Sally Howell, executive director of the Alabama Association of School Boards, said they would like to see the Legislature make even more changes, including tightening up who can get the tax credits.

Brewbaker said he expects his committee to vote on Marsh's bill Wednesday because any bill that hasn't cleared a committee by the end of this week will have difficulty passing in the short time remaining in the legislative session.