Senator forms nonprofit to sell school tax-credit act
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Mar 21, 2013 | 9850 views |  0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MONTGOMERY — Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, has formed a nonprofit organization to convince voters to support the Alabama Accountability Act, a much-debated school tax credit bill signed into law last week.

"Hopefully we can get the public educated about the legislation in the next couple of months," Marsh said. "There have been lots of lies about the act."

State records show that Marsh is on the board of directors of the Foundation for Accountability in Education, a nonprofit corporation formed March 8. State records list the goal of the group as "promot(ing) social welfare."

The group began running radio ads earlier this week in support of the Accountability Act, and maintains a website, www.alabamaaccountability.com, that touts the act's support from groups such as the Heritage Foundation and the Alabama Policy Institute.

The Accountability Act has been a source of heated debate on Goat Hill since its passage on Feb. 28. The bill got its start as the School Flexibility Act, a nine-page bill designed to allow school systems to opt out of certain state regulations for academic purposes.

In the final hours before its passage, a conference committee, led by Marsh, more than doubled the size of the bill adding provisions that would provide a tax credit for parents who choose to pull their children out of "failing" schools and move them to private schools or nonfailing public schools.

The Accountability Act was opposed by a number of education groups that had supported the original Flexibility Act, in part because there was no fiscal impact statement, the statement of cost that usually accompanies a bill. The bill also sparked a lawsuit by the Alabama Education Association, the state's largest professional organization for teachers, which sought to block the signing of the bill on the grounds that its passage violated the state's Open Meetings Act and the Legislature's rules. The Alabama Supreme Court rejected that move.

The March 8 incorporation date for the organization means it was founded while the signing of the bill was still blocked by a court injunction, pending a decision in the AEA lawsuit.

State records list Montgomery accountant Ashley Newman as the incorporator of the  Foundation for Accountability in Education. Newman was also recently acting head of Reform Alabama, a school-reform group set up by former gubernatorial candidate Bradley Byrne. Marsh said there was no connection between the two organizations except their affiliation with Newman, who does the paperwork for a number of nonprofits.

Marsh said the group will likely continue campaigning for a couple of months, in an attempt to dispel what he says are widespread falsehoods about the new law.

"The biggest thing is the idea that it sets up a voucher system, which is not true," Marsh said.

A school voucher is a credit issued by a government that allows parents to decide where their state-funded education dollars are spent. A tax credit repays parents for money they've already spent on education. Because that money never enters state coffers, a tax credit is less likely to be subject to state or federal restrictions on where the money can be spent.

Some school-choice advocates — supporters of the Accountability Act — have told The Star in recent weeks that the act's tax credit is fundamentally the same as a voucher system. But "voucher" has also been a catchphrase for the AEA, which launched a radio ad campaign against the bill earlier this month.

"Our purpose is to educate the people of Alabama about what the Legislature has done," said Henry Mabry, executive secretary of the AEA. "The Legislature has to be held accountable."

Mabry said Wednesday the AEA would continue to speak against the Accountability Act in broadcast ads and in its own publications.

"We're not running ads as some kind of Acme Widget Company-sounding outfit," he said. "We're running them as the AEA."

Mabry said the group was also doing polling across the state to measure public opinion of the new law. He said AEA polling showed that 75 percent of Alabama residents oppose the idea of giving the tax credit to parents whose children are already in private school.

Most of AEA's poll questions, read to The Star by Mabry, identify the tax credit as a "voucher."

"If it walks like a duck, if it talks like a duck, if it acts like a duck, it's a duck," he said.

Mabry said he didn't know how much AEA had spent on broadcast ads against the Accountability Act.

Marsh said he didn't know how much money the Foundation for Accountability in Education had raised.

Capitol and statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter: @TLockette_Star.
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Senator forms nonprofit to sell school tax-credit act by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com

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