Institute for Justice & Alabama Parents Defend Nation’s Newest School Choice Program

John Kramer
John Kramer · October 9, 2013

Arlington, Va.
—Today, Alabama parents joined with the Institute for Justice to defend the nation’s newest school choice program from attack by the teachers’ union.

The Alabama Accountability Act (AAA) will achieve something vitally important to parents and children across the state: It will rescue kids from failing public schools. It will also help shift power over children’s education from the teachers’ union and restore it to parents, which is why the Alabama Education Association has orchestrated a series of lawsuits in a desperate effort to block the schoolhouse doors, not with the goal of keeping kids out, but with the specific goal of keeping kids in chronically failing schools.

On Thursday, October 10, the Institute for Justice moved to intervene in the union-led litigation in the Montgomery County Circuit Court in Alabama on behalf parents who are using school choice to get their children into safe and effective schools where they are receiving a quality education today.

“The frivolous nature of the union’s claims reveals their desperation,” said Bert Gall, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice. “IJ and parents stand ready to defend the Alabama Accountability Act in court.”

Having litigated every major school choice case across the nation in the past 20-plus years, the Institute for Justice is confident that the landmark Alabama Accountability Act will be upheld in court. And when it does, it will eventually help thousands of children who need access to additional educational options to obtain an education that will prepare them for a better life.

“We expect to set a first-of-its-kind precedent in this case demonstrating that refundable tax credits are constitutional,” said Dick Komer, an IJ senior attorney. “Similar tax credits have been upheld in state after state, and we’re confident the same will be done here in Alabama. Moreover, the Alabama Supreme Court has already upheld scholarship programs allowing students to receive state funds to attend Alabama’s private colleges against challenges brought under these same state religion clauses.”

The Alabama Accountability Act was passed in 2013 by the Alabama Legislature. The Act offers a lifeline to families that would like to escape failing public schools but have lacked the financial resources to do so until now. The Act empowers these families through two ways: It provides parents and legal guardians whose children are assigned to failing public schools with refundable tax credits and also provides individual and corporate taxpayers with tax credits for donations made to qualified charitable organizations that award scholarships to similarly situated children.

Tequila Rogers, a school choice mom from Mobile, Ala., and an Institute for Justice client, said, “This program allows my son to be in a better educational environment than the school he would have been assigned to by the district. Little Flower Catholic School has smaller class sizes and the children work in groups each day, so they learn to work together. Little Flower is concerned about each child’s education and well-being. It would have been impossible for me to send him there without this lifeline.”

Ms. Rogers’ son, Christian Rogers, would have attended Booker T. Washington Middle School for sixth grade, but because Booker T. Washington Middle School was rated by the state of Alabama as a failing school, Ms. Rogers was eligible for a refundable tax credit of up to $3,500 if she sent Christian to a private school participating in the Alabama Accountability Act. After determining that Booker T. Washington was not a good school for Christian, Ms. Rogers researched her options for private school and chose to send Christian to Little Flower Catholic School. Neither Ms. Rogers nor Christian is Catholic, and Ms. Rogers did not select Little Flower for religious reasons, although both are very comfortable with the religious atmosphere at Little Flower. Christian loves his new school. He likes the students and the small classes and Ms. Rogers likes the focus on learning and the fact that the teachers are proactive and follow-up with parents.

Tuition and fees at Little Flower total $4,177. The AAA’s refundable tax credit is a big help to Ms. Rogers because it will offset $3,500 of that cost. The school is convenient to her work in downtown Mobile and also provides after-school care.

The refundable tax credits provided in the AAA are a hybrid of direct scholarship programs in which the government provides scholarships directly to eligible students, similar to the federal Pell Grant program or GI Bill, and programs that provide either tax credits or tax deductions to families for educational expenses of sending their children to private schools. Twelve states and the District of Columbia operate 18 direct scholarship programs, and six states offer tax credits and deductions directly to families for education expenses associated with private schools.

“The passage of this new school choice program throws a much-needed educational lifeline to Alabama families most in need of it,” said IJ President and General Counsel Chip Mellor. “The kids were assigned to some of the worst public schools in the state, and this program provides them with a pathway to a better education today, not at some distant point in the future. We at the Institute for Justice will do everything we can do to see that this program has a chance to succeed.”