By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Wednesday, May 28, Montgomery County Judge Gene Reese (D) in the 15th Circuit ruled that the controversial Alabama Accountability Act is unconstitutional. Republicans were quick to announce their disappointment with the controversial ruling and their hope that Republican appeals court judges will overturn the ruling of the local Montgomery Democrat.
Lt. Governor Kay Ivey released the following statement Wednesday regarding the 15th Circuit Court’s ruling on the Alabama Accountability Act: “As the school year comes to an end, I regret this decision may force some students to return to failing schools next year. It’s unfortunate the legal system is being used as a barrier while families are trying to make plans about their children’s education. I respect the process, but I feel strongly that parents and students should have choice when it comes to where to attend school. I anticipate an appeal will be filed in a timely manner and I will continue to do all I can to ensure our children have access to the best education possible.”
State Representative Kurt Wallace (R) from Maplesville was angered by the ruling. Rep. Wallace wrote on Facebook, “In case you missed it…a democratic judge in Montgomery (fueled by the millions AEA is spending to fight this bill) ruled today that the Alabama Accountability Act was unconstitutional. What does this mean for Alabama’s children??? It means that thousands of children, all over Alabama (who don’t attend good schools like we have in Chilton County) will be trapped in failing schools with no hope of transferring to a better school.”
State Representative Ed Henry said, “Today, Judge Reese, a Democrat and an AEA lackey in the Montgomery Circuit Court, declared that the Ala. Accountability Act was unconstitutional, and was not passed in accordance with constitutional procedures. Thus, the Judge said the Act was null and void… and that the Revenue Dep’t and Comptroller are enjoined from further implementation of the Act (The ruling does not affect anything retroactively).”
Rep. Wallace said, “The fact is…these tax credits were their only hope for helping their children get a good and decent education. And as you all know…a good education translates to a good job and most often to success in life. Every year a child languishes in a failing environment is a year they will be closer to becoming another high school drop-out statistic.”
Rep. Henry wrote on facebook, “Therefore, until the Alabama Supreme Court decides to issue a stay against Judge Reese’s ruling, the state will not be able to lawfully process any of the provisions and/or tax credits established by the Act. Local school systems will also likely put a hold on any future flexibility actions once the word of this decision reaches them. However, the AG’s Office has announced its decision to promptly appeal this decision, and we are very confident that the Alabama Supreme Court will not allow this ruling to stand in place for very long. Leadership for both the House and the Senate are also actively working on getting involved from a legal standpoint as well, to take a stand for our lawful and constitutionally sound legislation.”
Rep. Wallace continued, “When this bill took effect last year almost 900 children took advantage of it, only 52 of those kids went to a private school. The overwhelming majority of parents only wanted their children to attend a good “public school”. Whose child doesn’t deserve that? The devastating effects of this bill, claimed by the AEA, never materialized. Contrary to what they screamed…almost all the tax credit dollars stayed in public education. It provided hope and opportunity for hundreds of underprivileged children and possibly a way out of the circle of poverty they find themselves in. There have been dozens of success stories from all over Alabama. How heart broke those families must be today…”
School choice was one of the most controversial issues during the last four years. Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) proposed charter schools to give more parents options. In 2012 the Alabama House of Representatives passed a modest charter school bill, however the State Senate gutted that bill so badly that it virtually assured that no charter school could ever happen. The House never took up that bill. In 2013 the legislature considered an uncontroversial school flexibility act which would have allowed school boards the ability to ask the State for waivers from some of the onerous education regulations if they had a plan to improve education. The bill sponsored by Representative Chad Fincher (R) had the support of school boards. It easily passed both the House and the Senate. That bill went to a conference committee where it morphed into the much larger and more controversial Alabama Accountability Act which allowed children in Alabama worst schools to apply for a scholarship to go to another public or even a private school. Opponents argued that the bill would lead to poor school systems hemorrhaging students and state funding, while doing nothing to improve conditions at the poor performing school.
Reps. Wallace and Henry and Lt. Gov. Ivey all face primary challengers on Tuesday.
The Alabama Attorney General’s office is reviewing Judge Reese’s ruling.