MADISON, Ala. (WHNT) -- The Alabama Senate Thursday night approved a bill to amend the controversial Alabama Accountability Act. The Senate approved a substitute version of HB658 by Representative Jim Carns, R-Mountain Brook.
Carns' bill specified that no school would be required to accept a student from a school designated as failing under the accountability act.
That is good news for the ever-growing Madison school system says superintendent Dr. Dee Fowler.
"We wanted to be able to close our borders to say that Madison City Schools is an entity within itself, within the city of Madison and that we've got to take care of growth in Madison," says Fowler.
But even with provision, Fowler says the law still feels like a penalty.
"Here we are working hard everyday trying to do the best we can and then a law passes that ultimately reduces the amount of funds available to us by over $400,000."
Senator Bill Holztclaw insists there is a caveat to that projection.
"The answer is, we don't know," explains Holtzclaw. "A study was done in Oklahoma, this law is very closely modeled after Oklahoma, and the amount of families that took advantage of this new-found option was much smaller than what they had originally anticipated and budgeted for."
Holtzclaw says there were 2 major areas that grounded legislators to a halt for various philosophical reasons.
"One was whether or not a child currently zoned for a failing school but already in a private school would be able to qualify for the tax credit," says Holtzclaw, "Another point was whether or not a family should have to be means tested based on income to qualify for the tax credits."
A means test for scholarship eligibility was however added to the bill.
"We don't think it's fair if you're sending your kid to a private school and you make a million dollars a year and then you get a $3500 tax credit at the end of the year," contends Fowler.
Besides the provision specifying that no school would have to accept a student transferring from a failing school, HB-658 would according to our news partners at al.com:
- Change the definition of a failing school to one that is labeled as persistently low-performing by the state Department of Education in the most recent U.S. Department of Education School Improvement Grant application, does not exclusively serve a special student population and ranks in the lowest 6 percent of schools in reading and math in three of the most recent six years. Beginning in 2017, a new letter grade system for schools that is still being implemented would be a factor in the definition.
- Provide that when a tax credit is paid for a student transferring from a failing school, an amount equal to 20 percent of the average per student funding provided by the state would go to the failing school.
- Say that students with disabilities who transfer under the law would be given all services provided under federal law.
- Provide that corporations could receive a tax credit equal to 100 percent of donations made to scholarship granting organizations. The credit could not exceed 50 percent of a taxpayer’s liability and a $25 million cap on donation tax credits would remain in place.
- Provide that a student transferring from a failing public school to a nonfailing public school in another system would be responsible for transportation.
- Provide that scholarship donors could not designate a donation for a particular student.
- Provide that scholarship granting organizations could on Sept. 15 each year make unexpended funds available to low-income eligible students for scholarships to defray the cost of attending a qualifying school whether or not the students are assigned to or attending a failing school.
- Provide that the law is retroactive to March 14, 2013.
- Say that nothing in the law affects athletic eligibility rules of the Alabama High School Athletic Association.
Click here for the full text of HB-658.