Wednesday, Gov. Robert Bentley proposed a two-year pause on the tax-credit provisions of the so-called Alabama Accountability Act. Bentley said his executive amendment will (a.) give the state more time to work out the costs of the tax credit and (b.) allow potentially failing public schools to improve. The amendment will require approval by the state Legislature, which meets Monday for the final day of its 2013 session.
Wednesday’s announcement by the governor, which we welcome, was one more twist for a Republican proposal that has been marred by skullduggery, missteps and overreach. The bill was drafted in secret in February in no small part to keep the Alabama Education Association and other potential opponents at bay. Lawmakers had only a few hours to ponder it before being asked to vote on it.
After the matter of a brief court delay, Bentley happily signed the measure into law in mid-March.
Then came the great unraveling.
A question over who was eligible for the tax credit emerged. Was it children currently enrolled in “failing” schools or was it children zoned for those schools who had already opted for private school?
The state wrestled over how to define a “failing” school.
Administrators at non-failing public schools wondered if their facilities would be forced to accept transfer students from failing schools.
Budget-writers fretted about the Education Trust Fund’s bottom line, particularly because the bill passed in February did not estimate the costs of a $3,500 per-child tax credit.
School districts under federal court supervision questioned the legality of allowing transfers across strictly regulated boundaries.
Private schools threw cold water on the notion of accepting dollars from state-administered scholarship funds, a portion of the law intended to make up the difference between the $3,500 tax credit and more expensive private school tuition.
Aren’t these the items discussed before a bill becomes law? Usually, and for very good reasons. Without due diligence, legislators are likely to endure the sort of whiplash they’ve felt in Montgomery over the past 10 weeks.
Give credit to Gov. Bentley for realizing that more time is needed to consider the implications of this measure. We can only hope legislators will agree with him on Monday.