By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) has repeatedly said that he would like to raise the $25 million cap of the Alabama Accountability Act. But recent, numbers coming from the Revenue Department show that as of January 5, 2015, the program has verified only $12,732,968 from 634 donations.
The department says that the SGOs have until Jan. 10 to complete the verifications process.
“The fact that all SGOs only raised about 51 percent of the maximum allowed by law, certainly makes one wonder what is going on. This is especially true of Bob Riley’s Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund, where the average donation was $713,000 in 2013 and less than $14,000 in 2014,” said education advocate Larry Lee.
Lesley Searcy who heads Riley’s SGO said, people want to give but they want certainty from the courts first. This is a refrain that Marsh, and Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard have been singing since Judge Reese ruled the law unconstitutional on the grounds that it violated a provision of the State constitution requiring that each piece of legislation cover only one content topic. The future of the AAA currently rests in the hands of the State’s Supreme Court.
But with only 49 percent of the scholarships made available by Riley’s organization actually going to students in failing schools, the entire program has come under greater scrutiny.
Lee says, the decline in donations may come from the fact that people have realized that “a large number of scholarships are going to students who already attend private schools, or to those from non-failing schools, instead of going to help those in failing schools as the public was told they would and are hesitant to give.”
He further stated “I also think this drop in donations tells us that the law is more about tax breaks for big business than about helping poor kids,” Lee said, “When tax attorneys and accountants make decisions, it is all about the bottom line—not about helping schools in the Black Belt.”
Some have also speculated that Riley’s close association with indicted Speaker Hubbard, and being named in the indictments, have led to the decline in his personal power to raise money.
During the legislative orientation, Riley’s SGO was the only organization allowed to hold educational sessions about the benefits of the AAA for the incoming legislators.