Selma City Schools turn eye to new law

Published 11:03pm Thursday, March 14, 2013

Gov. Robert Bentley signed legislation Thursday to provide Alabama’s first tax credits for private school attendance.

The bill started out as legislation to allow city and county school systems to get approval from the state school board to have flexibility in complying with state education laws. Its goal was to encourage innovative approaches to education.

However, on Feb. 28 a legislative conference committee controlled by the Republican majority vastly expanded the bill and added state tax credits for parents who chose to send their children to a private school rather than a public school rated as failing.

Bentley said the flexibility portion of the law gives failing schools the opportunity to try new ways to improve, get out of failing status, and keep their current students. “Our goal is not to support private education. Our goal is to make every school in this state a non-failing school,” he said.

Families with children assigned to a failing public school can get a tax credit for moving to a private school — a credit equal to 80 percent of the average annual state cost of attendance for a public K-12 student. That would have been $3,553 for the 2011-2012 school year.

A failing public school is defined as persistently low-performing by the state Department of Education in the then most recent U.S. Department of Education School Improvement Grant application; is listed in the lowest 10 percent of public K-12 schools on the state standardized assessment in reading and math; has earned a grade of “F’’ or three consecutive grades of “D’’ in Alabama’s school grading system; or is designated a failing school by the state school superintendent.

Selma City School’s that meet the Legislature’s definition of a failing school include R.B. Hudson Middle School and Selma High School. Dallas County Schools considered failing schools include B.K. Craig Elementary, Brantley Elementary, Dallas County High, Salem Elementary, Southside High, Southside Primary, Keith Middle-High and Tipton Durant Middle.

Labarron Mack, Alabama Education Association UniServ director addressed the new law at the Selma City School Board Thursday.

“They’re saying if it’s a failing school, the [students] can leave that failing school and go to a school that’s high performing,” Mack said. “What this has done, is you’ve given other entities the opportunity to come in and take that money away from public education.”

“I think [the lawmakers] feel like we have all of these failing schools, so if we give the children an option, then education can improve. But the children who are really struggling are from low-income families,” Selma City School Board attorney Katy Campbell said. “They’re not going to be able to move because it’s a tax credit, so they’re not going to be able to send their child to Morgan [Academy[, because that $3,500 tax credit does not come near to what the tuition would be.”

“But I really don’t think in the beginning that you’re going to see a mass exodus of students leaving our schools and enrolling in the private schools,” Selma City School’s Superintendent Gerald Shirley said. “A student who’s currently enrolled in a private school could come to our public school [that meets the criteria of a ‘failing school’], stay a week or two weeks and then go back to the private school. And the parent has a right for the $3,500 tax credit.”

— The Associated Press contributed to this report

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