Gov. Robert Bentley this morning defended the school bill that will allow state education money to follow students from failing public schools to private ones, saying he will sign it today if it gets to him.
But that may not happen.
A Montgomery judge temporarily blocked the governor from signing a private school tax credit bill and set a hearing for this afternoon after the Alabama Education Association filed a lawsuit over the bill.
The teachers' group's suit argues the Legislature violated Alabama's open meetings law and its own operating rules when it passed the legislation with a quick series of votes Thursday night, the Associated Press reports. AEA maintains the tax credits would hurt funding for public schools because Alabama's income tax supports public education.
Bentley, speaking outside the Capitol today, said that amid the controversy a lot of good things in the bill are getting lost.
“People don’t realize how important this bill is,” he said. The bill still contains the flexibility measures that superintendents originally supported.
“This is something they’ve worked for for years,” Bentley said. “Now they have it.”
He said he still doesn’t know how much the tax credits could cost the state in lost education trust fund revenue.
The complaint alleges four Republican members of the conference committee violated the open meetings law when they left for two hours, returning with the renamed and expanded Alabama Accountability Act.
"Union boss Henry Mabry will use whatever tactic, no matter how frivolous, to preserve the broken status quo that has failed our state for decades," said House Speaker Mike Hubbard in a statement. "An effort to ensure a quality education for every children is something that deserves support, but Mabry's misguided priorities have led him to believe failing schools are acceptable. This is a lawsuit against every Alabama student and parent who wishes for a better future and a better public education."
Mabry is head of the Alabama Education Association. The AEA is not a party to the lawsuit, but AEA lawyers are among several that filed the complaint.
A spokesman for Bentley said he had planned to sign the bill into law at 1 p.m.
"It's unfortunate that anyone would try to stop a bill that gives students in failing schools more options to receive a quality education," said Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston.
The Alabama Association of School Boards, which also has come out against the bill, said it could drain as much as $367 million from the Education Trust Fund. The state Department of Education issued a list of concerns with the bill Monday.
According to Marsh, the bill would affect 202 schools that meet the definition of "failing" in the bill.
Democrats in the Alabama House blasted their Republican counterparts not just for the school flexibility bill’s contents but the process that was used to pass it. If Democrats regain the majority in 2014, they said the first thing they’d do is repeal the law.
They said they were only given about 30 minutes to read the bill, which grew from nine pages to 27, before the vote Thursday night. As a result, Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, said Democrats for the rest of the legislative session are “going to slow the process down.”
Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, D-Red Bay, said the bill, which includes scholarship provisions for those who can’t afford private school tuition even with the tax credit, will allow private schools to recruit the best athletes and students from failing public schools.
Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, said that under this bill, all public schools will lose money.
Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, who normally doesn’t caucus with her fellow Democrats, joined them to say that they and voters had been deceived on Thursday.
“Every citizen had a right to participate in that process,” she said. “If you believe in democracy, you should be outraged.”
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