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Alabama seeks dismissal of school transfer suit

Phillip Rawls, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- Alabama is asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center that seeks to block a new state law allowing students to transfer from failing schools.

Attorney General Luther Strange's staff filed papers saying the plaintiffs lacked legal standing because they didn't show any personal injury traceable to the defendants. The state also said the plaintiffs failed to state a valid equal protection claim.

In an order Monday, U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins set a schedule for each side to file briefs, with the last brief due on Oct. 21.

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed suit against the governor, the state school superintendent, and others to challenge the Alabama Accountability Act. The law allows students in 78 public schools ranked as failing to transfer to non-failing public schools or private schools participating in the program. Families of the students can get state tax credits to help cover the cost of tuition.

The suit challenged the law on equal protection grounds, contending some rural students are trapped because they don't have non-failing public schools or private schools within a reasonable distance where they can transfer. It also contends that the new tax credits will reduce funding for all public schools and make it more difficult for them to perform at the same level.

The state teachers' organization, the Alabama Education Association, has a separate suit challenging the law in Montgomery County Circuit Court.

The governor signed the law in March, and it applied to the school year that started in August. The state Department of Education recently reported 52 students transferred from failing schools to private schools participating in the program. Under the law, their parents can qualify for annual tax credits of about $3,500.