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Legislature OKs changes to Ala. school tax credit

Kathy Wingard, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- The Alabama Legislature has approved legislation that says private schools and non-failing public schools don't have to accept students transferring from failing public schools.

On Thursday, the Senate voted 21-12 and the House 61-41 for a bill making changes to the Alabama Accountability Act, which provides tax credits for parents who transfer the child from a public school rated as failing to a non-failing public school or private school.

The bill passed Thursday makes clear that a student transferring from a failing school in one school system to a non-failing school in another has to provide his own transportation. It also tightens up which schools will be designated as failing.

The Senate passed the bill after the Republican majority cut off debate by Democrats. It was a repeat of what happened Feb. 28 when Senate Republicans approved the Accountability Act after blocking debate by Democrats. Some Democrats became furious Tuesday.

Senate Minority Leader Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile, shouted at Marsh, "This is about to change education in a very drastic, negative way in the state of Alabama."

"I can't explain it because you are screaming at the microphone," Marsh replied.

In the House, Democratic Rep. Patricia Todd of Birmingham said the bill gives affluent school systems the opportunity to reject any transfer students they don't want. Proponents said it protects school systems from suits if they accept transfers one year but don't have room for them the next.

The bill does not address whether the new tax credits will apply to students who previously transferred from failing schools to private schools. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said that this was left out because there was too much disagreement among the Republican majority. He said the Legislature will leave it up to the state Revenue Department to determine if the tax credits apply to transfers that have already occurred.