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Constitutionality of Alabama Accountability Act Upheld by Alabama Supreme Court

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Monday, March 2, the Alabama Republican Party announced in a statement that the Alabama Supreme Court has announced its decision to uphold the constitutionality of the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA).

Alabama Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R from Auburn) said on Facebook, “Great news from the Alabama Supreme Court tonight. I issued the following statement upon learning the Alabama Accountability Act was upheld: The Supreme Court Ruling on the Alabama Accountability Act is a win for parents, a win for students, and a win for school choice in the state of Alabama. I look forward to hearing even more success stories as this law continues to work in our state. We are committed to expanding school choice in Alabama until every child has the chance at a quality education regardless of their income or zip code.”

The all Republican Alabama Supreme Court overturned a ruling by Montgomery County Circuit Judge Gene Reese. Reese ruled in May, 2014 that the AAA violated the Alabama constitutional due to improper legislative procedures.

Alabama Republican Party Chairwoman Terry Lathan issued a written statement following the court’s decision. Chairwoman Lathan said, “The Alabama Republican Party has been supportive of school choice for families and is pleased to see the Alabama Supreme Court has ruled that the Alabama Accountability Act did not violate our state constitution or any of our state laws. Giving parents the choice to choose a good school for their children that are zoned in failing school districts was a historic and monumental move in the right direction for education in Alabama.”

Lathan continued, “As a former public elementary school teacher, I strongly support the classroom teachers and can identify with the daily challenges they face. As a parent, I also know that education decisions should start in the home with a student’s family. The partnership between the two can have wonderful outcomes, but in the end, a parent’s decision should go to the head of the class. I applaud the decision by the Alabama Supreme Court and we look forward to more innovative ideas from the Republican legislature and Governor Bentley on the topic of education.”

In February 2013 legislative sessions both Houses of the Alabama Legislature passed the Alabama School Flexibility Act (H.B. 84) with bipartisan support to give school systems the ability to ask the state for some flexibility in following state rules. The bill was amended slightly in the Senate. The House non-concurred so a conference committee was called to resolve the difference. After a recess, the Republican majority on the committee returned with a bill that was 21 pages longer than the bill they went to recess with. They passed what was now the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA) which allowed taxpayers to divert their income tax dollars from the Education Trust Fund (ETF) to private Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs). Students who are zoned to Alabama’s worst performing schools are allowed to transfer to another public or a private school and the SGO awards them a scholarship to pay for that opportunity. The AAA was wildly unpopular with Democrats and the Alabama Education Association (AEA).

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AEA President Anita Gibson, State Senator Quinton Ross (D), and Daniel Boyd challenging the AAA and the validity of its passage. Judge Reese agreed and ruled in favor of the plaintiffs striking down the AAA. Monday’s Alabama Supreme Court decision struck down the lower court ruling and upheld the validity and constitutionality of the Accountability Act.

During the 2014 elections, GOP incumbents were challenged both in Republican Primaries and in the General Election by opponents claiming that the Accountability Act hurt public schools. A lot of money was spent on political ads but the issue never gained traction with voters who returned the GOP to power with even bigger super-majorities in both Houses of the Alabama Legislature.

Monday’s ruling clears the path for the Alabama GOP to pass even more school choice legislation in this session.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) has already introduced a charter school bill. Senator Marsh said in a recent statement, “We are learning how other states operate charter schools and we have taken the high points from those states in terms of accountability, transparency and performance. Because we are so late to the game, we can ensure Alabama’s charter schools are the best in the nation.”

A public hearing will be held in the Senate on The School Choice and Student Opportunity Act will be held on Wednesday, March 4.

Alabama Republican Party Chairwoman Terry Lathan recently was elected last month to succeed popular ALGOP Chairman Bill Armistead who elected not to pursue a third term as Chairman.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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