HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – After a swift and contentious legal battle, the governor signed the Alabama Accountability Act into law.
A lot of the criticism of the act focused on the way it was passed, with detractors claiming it completely eluded public scrutiny and debate.
The most hotly debated aspect of the law itself is the tax credit it offers to families for pulling students out of failing public schools.
If a student attends a failing public school, they can transfer out to a public school that’s not failing or a private school, and their family gets a tax credit.
Homeschool isn’t included in the plan.
Current estimates put the tax credit around $3,500.
The law defines it at 80% of the average state cost for a year of public school.
The law went into effect as soon as the governor signed it, and it says anyone who takes the steps laid out by the law can get the tax credit when they file in 2014.
However, it’s unclear if it will all work out that quickly. In part, because it’s unclear what schools students can leave.
There are 4 kinds.
- Schools labeled low performing by the State Department of Education.
- Schools in the bottom 10% of public schools in standardized tests for reading and math.
- Schools that earned an ‘F’ or 3 consecutive ‘D’s under state law.
- Schools designated as failing by the state superintendent.
But there are a lot of moving parts here, and the state department of education hasn’t made any recommendations as to which schools fit this description.
However, there’s a whole other aspect of the law that hasn’t been explored as thoroughly.
Flexibility for schools motivated the original bill, which later transformed into the Alabama Accountability Act.
School flexibility gives school districts the choice to submit a flexibility contract, requesting waivers on state regulations.
Those regulations include budgetary issues, staffing, personnel, scheduling, and curriculum.
But there are limitations to what can be carried out through a flexibility plan.
For one, it can’t be used to circumvent calendar restrictions passed by the legislature last year.
The contract must be approved by a school system’s superintendent and school board.
The contract must also be approved by the state superintendent.
Plus, there are some expectations that go with a flexibility contract.
The schools included must be publicly listed by the district.
School districts may not waive federal laws, ethics requirements, or health and safety standards.
Also the district remains responsible for the performance of all of its schools