By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Last week the Alabama Education Association (AEA) announced that they were taking their fight against the Alabama Accountability Act to the Courts.
AEA Executive Secretary Dr. Gregory Graves wrote in a prepared statement, “On Monday, August 26, 2013, a lawsuit was filed challenging the Alabama Accountability Act as unconstitutional under our state constitution. We support this effort because this ill-conceived and illegally enacted law will have a hugely negative impact on Alabama’s students, our schools, and our state.”
For decades the Alabama Education Association (AEA) has wielded the power to kill education bills that it did not like. The AEA never got everything that it wanted (particularly in the way of tax increases or gambling to support education) but it generally had enough friends in important places to kill legislation that it did not like in committee. When that failed, the powerful union for teachers and education support personnel has always had enough support in the State Senate that they could effectively filibuster legislation which they did not like. Even when Republicans gained control of both Houses of the state legislature, the AEA mustered the votes in the State Senate to effectively neuter a very modest House charter school proposal during the 2012 session.
That all changed in 2013. The AEA fought the Alabama School Flexibility Act, which gave school systems the ability to ask for waivers from state laws to attempt to improve school performance, and Republicans stuck together and easily swept aside efforts to filibuster the Act.
Once in committee, Republicans took that defiance even further by substituting two dozen pages to the bill creating procedures by which students in failing schools can apply for transfer to other public schools or even private schools.The new act gave students tax credits to pay for private school tuition, essentially taking revenues from Alabama’s public schools and redistributing it to Alabama’s private schools.
The renamed Alabama Accountability Act which rolled out of the Conference Committee rolled through token opposition in both Houses of the Alabama Legislature. All efforts by the AEA and their dwindling list of legislative allies to repeal the measure, which in theory could lead to Alabama’s worst schools hemorrhaging students……and state teacher jobs, were easily swept aside by a united Republican super-majority. Failing in the legislature the AEA has appealed to the courts.
The AEA lawsuit challenges the challenges the Accountability Act on ten different procedural grounds. The AEA says that the Act (HB84) violated Alabama’s 1901 constitution in how it was passed, that it violates provisions dealing with the earmarking of funds, and violates provision regarding public funds being used for charitable and religious institutions.
Graves said, “Across Alabama parents are being asked to buy toilet tissue, paper towels, hand sanitizer and other items because our schools can’t afford them. Hoover has decided to cut its bus service because of a lack of funding, yet the government is asking Alabamians to pick up the tab for their tax give away. Left unchallenged, the cost of this act to taxpayers will continue to grow to astronomical levels at the expense of Alabama’s public schools.”
Graves concluded, “The people of Alabama value education because they know how critical it is to the future of our state, its economy, and the promise we make all of our schoolchildren to educate them. The Accountability Act will destroy that promise, and that’s why we are supporting this challenge.”
The Alabama Accountability Act has already been challenged in court by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Because not all students who qualify for the transfers can afford to pay for tuition to a private school even with the tax credits the SPLC argues that the Act is discriminatory based on incomes.