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NO CAP? Detractors ask “What’s the ceiling?” on private school tax credits

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said he is expecting to substitute the current bill to include some kind of spending limitation.

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Gov. Kay Ivey’s plan to provide $7,000 tax credits to students attending private school will statutorily cost taxpayers at least $100 million.

Wednesday, concerned groups asked lawmakers, if $100 million is “the floor,” what is the ceiling?

“You’ve given us a floor, but there’s no ceiling. We have s base amount that we’re obligated  to spend each year, but there’s nothing on the other end of that,” said Ashley McLain, director of advocacy and engagement for the School Superintendents of Alabama. 

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, chair of the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee said those changes are in the works and expects a vote on the revised bill next week.

Senate Bill 61, dubbed by Ivey as the CHOOSE Act by Ivey, would create a tax credit of up to $7,000 per year per pupil for parents who send their students to qualifying private schools. In the first two years of the program, only families who make up to 300 percent of the poverty level would be eligible for the credit, which would then open to all students. Homeschooled students would only be able to receive up to $2,000 per year in tax credits, and the bill caps total annual homeschool credits to $4,000 per family.

As the program expands, there are concerns that the program could cost the state much more than the $100 million baseline that has been promoted alongside the bill.

“It could be as high as $500 million, $600 million a year; we’ll just have to see the annual choice that is made,” said Allison King, government relations director for the Alabama Education Association.

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Education groups also have concerns about the testing requirement and how private schools will be compared to public schools if different metrics are used.

“If competition breeds improvement, then we need to know that we’re in a head-to-head and what does that look like?” McLain asked.

Public schools are held accountable to a standardized test called ACAP, and McLain said public school superintendents want to see private schools held to that same standard to ensure students are receiving a quality education.

Nick Moore, education policy advisor and coordinator for the governor’s office of education and workforce transformation, said the bill gives a variety of testing options to ensure that students are being evaluated and schools are being held accountable, while not enforcing a specific curriculum on private schools.

“For the purposes of an ESA, if everybody has to take the ACAP, that is truly comparing apples and oranges” Moore said. “If we want to compare apples to apples, we’re going to make sure the if it’s a Catholic school or another high-quality private or Christian school or whatever it is that’s participating, that they have an assessment that’s aligned to their standards …”

Supporters of the bill continued, as in years past with the PRICE Act, to argue that school funding should follow the student and not be used to “prop up” institutions. They also argue that it will not defund public schools because it will not impact formulas for funding public schools and most of the participating students will not be leaving public schools, thereby impacting their enrollment figures.

Jacob Holmes is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected]

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