IJ Defends Alabama’s New School Choice Program

December 1, 2013

For too long in Alabama the educational fate of children depended solely upon their zip code. If children were assigned to poorly performing schools, they had little choice but to attend and the school no real incentive to improve.

But earlier this year, the Alabama legislature enacted new school choice legislation, called the Alabama Accountability Act, aimed at empowering parents to pursue better educational opportunities for their children. Under the Act, a parent whose child is assigned to one of the 78 public schools deemed “failing” by the state can now obtain a refundable tax credit to help offset the tuition and other costs of transferring the child to a better-performing public or private school. Furthermore, the Act provides tax credits to individuals and corporations who donate funds to nonprofit organizations that offer scholarships to the children of low-income parents.

Unsurprisingly, the Alabama Education Association is trying to kill the Accountability Act by suing in state court to block it. The AEA is relying on the same tired claims other teachers’ unions have unsuccessfully used to try to block school choice in other states. They argue, wrongly, that allowing parents to choose a religious private school violates the state Constitution. They also added a kitchen-sink list of other frivolous claims concerning the Act’s financing and the means by which it passed the legislature. But contrary to the AEA’s view, nothing in the Alabama Constitution forbids the state from helping kids get out of failing schools.

Indeed, the AEA’s lawsuit is nothing more than a desperate attempt to go back to the (all too recent) bad old days, in which parents were just supposed to accept it if their children’s school couldn’t provide a quality education.

IJ isn’t about to let the AEA turn back the educational clock. On October 10, we filed a motion to intervene on behalf of two Alabama families who are benefiting from the refundable tax credit.
Without the tax credit, IJ client Tequila Rogers of Mobile would have been financially hard-pressed to place her son Christian in his current private school, where he is thriving, instead of his assigned middle school, which has a poor academic reputation. IJ clients Danyal and Mark Jones of Montgomery are in a similar position: The tax credit enabled them to take their daughter Ragan out of her failing middle school, where she wasn’t getting the individualized attention she needed, and place her instead at Resurrection Catholic School. Today she receives one-on-one tutoring and excels in her classes—so much so that she has set herself the goal of becoming class valedictorian!

On October 21, the judge granted our motion to intervene. Now that IJ is officially in the case, we are prepared to go all the way to the Alabama Supreme Court to protect school choice for Christian, Ragan and every other child in Alabama who needs it.

Bert Gall is an IJ senior attorney.

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