By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Tuesday, April 11, 2017, the Alabama House Ways and Means Education Committee gave a favorable report to SB123. SB123 is sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston). This newest version of the Alabama Accountability Act has already passed the Alabama Senate and could move to the House floor as early as Thursday.
The Accountability Act allows a child in one of the State’s many failing public schools to accept a scholarship to attend a private school. The landmark school choice program has been a major Marsh initiative for years.
This bill increases the cap on income tax credits for donations to scholarship granting organizations (SGOs) from $50,000 a year to $100,000. Individuals and corporations are currently allowed to elect to devote up to half of their Alabama Income Tax dollars to these SGOs instead of to the old public school systems. This bill would allow you to send as much as 100 percent of your income tax liability to an SGO for scholarship instead of the state’s public schools. Corporations and individuals that opt for the tax credits could now double their contributions… up to $100,000 a year.
Increasing school choices for Alabama parents was an early goal of the Republican takeover in 2010 that gave the GOP control of both Houses of the legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. Actually delivering on that promise has been elusive however.
The Legislature has struggled to pass a workable charter schools bill that will actually result in charger schools. The Accountability Act was supposed to help children trapped in Alabama’s many failing schools break out of the cycle of poverty and poor educational performance; but that goal has proven elusive.
The SGOs struggle to find people willing to donate and children at a failing school willing to accept the opportunity. Some of the SGOs struggle to find qualified applicants and thus are sitting on piles of cash and others are struggling to find enough donors. SB123 is another effort to try to fix the bill.
Critics of the SGOs claim that many of the children who get the scholarships are not zoned to failing schools and likewise there is criticism of how the state defines a school as failing.
The committee amended the bill to include reporting on the Alabama State Department of Education website of exactly which Alabama schools are really failing.
Sen. Marsh has been a vocal supporter of expanding school choice for years.
(Original reporting by The Alabama Political Reporter’s Chip Brownlee contributed to this report.)