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    Super Moderator Newmexican's Avatar
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    Republicans in bombshell move push through bill giving tax credits for kids at 'faili

    The legislature went "nuts". listen to the audio at link.
    Republicans in bombshell move push through bill giving tax credits for kids at 'failing' schools to go to private schools (updated with video and audio)



    By Kim Chandler | kchandler@al.com
    March 01, 2013



    Senate chaos during bill debate Alabama Senate breaks down in chaos during school flexibility bill debate.

    Download the full MP3 Listen at Link.
    Video
    http://blog.al.com/wire/2013/02/republicans_push_through_bill.html#incart_river_de fault

    MONTGOMERY, Alabama --- Republicans dropped a legislative bombshell tonight as they slammed through a dramatically revamped education bill that will give tax credits for families at "failing schools" to send their children to private school or another public school.

    Lawmakers voted mid-day to send a school flexibility bill -- that would let school systems seek waivers from some policies -- to conference committee. The conference committee reported a dramatically different bill that included the flexibility measures plus what some lawmakers called school vouchers.

    [From 'historic' to 'sleaziness': Reaction to the school choice bill and how it was approved ]

    Republicans heralded it as a historic day for education and life-altering for children stuck in poorly performing schools. But tempers boiled over as Democrats called the maneuver "sleaziness" and a "bait and switch."
    The Senate broke down in chaos during the vote with every senator on their feet and many shouting at each other.

    "This is historic for the children of this state," Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said over the shouts of angry Democrats.

    "You went behind closed doors... This is not democracy. This is hypocrisy," Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery, shouted at Marsh.

    The House of Representatives approved the bill by a 51-26 vote. The Senate approved the bill 22-11.

    Gov. Robert Bentley is expected to sign the bill next week.

    "I truly believe this is historic education reform and it will benefit students and families across Alabama regardless of their income and regardless of where they live," Bentley said in a press conference tonight.

    "I'm so proud we have done this for the children of this state and especially the children who are in failing school systems and had no way out. Now, they have a way out," Bentley said.

    Gov. Bentley announces Alabama Accountability Act"Local school systems will have the flexibility to make more decisions on behalf of their students. Families will have new options if their children are stuck in failing schools. All children, regardless of their family's income or where they live, will have the opportunity to receive a quality education," said Bentley.Watch video


    A bill, originally written to allow local schools to seek waivers from some state policies and laws, grew from about eight pages to about 27 pages in the conference committee.

    The move drew outrage from Democrats who said the plan was evidently in the works for some time.

    "I've never seen such sleaziness," Rep. Thomas Jackson, D-Thomasville, said.

    Rep. Mary Moore, D-Birmingham, as she was leaving the House chamber threw her hands over her head and shouted, "Welcome to the new confederacy where a bunch of white men are now going to take over black schools."

    Republicans said the bill would free children from the bondage that comes with a poor education.

    "For many of these children, what we are doing tonight is life-altering," Rep. Jack Williams, R-Vestavia Hills, said.

    Cursing was heard in the legislative hallways as the word of the conference committee spread.

    Alabama Education Association Executive Secretary Henry Mabry said the move was "totally unacceptable."

    "What they're trying to do is give public money to private schools," Mabry said.

    "I was lied to. I was lied to by the Senate Pro Tem. I was lied to by lawmakers," Mabry said.

    Parents of children in failing schools could receive an income tax credit equal to 80 percent of the average annual state cost for attendance of a public K-12 student to offset the cost of private school or a transfer to another public school. A failing school is described as one in the bottom 10 percent of statewide reading and math scores, has earned three consecutive D's or an F on upcoming school report cards or is designated by the Department of Education as failing.

    It was not immediately clear how many schools would be affected.
    Another provision would help families who do not earn enough to receive a tax credit and whose children are in failing schools, Marsh said.

    It would call for the state Department of Revenue to set up a nonprofit organization to provide scholarships to students in failing schools to attend private schools or non-failing public schools.

    (Birmingham News file/Frank Couch)

    Businesses and individuals could receive income tax credits for contributing to the organization. Businesses could receive tax credits equal to 50 percent of their donation, up to 50 percent of their tax liability. Individuals could receive tax credits equal to 100 percent of their donation, up to 50 percent of their tax liability.

    The bill would also give failing schools the ability to offer incentives or alternate employment tracks to teachers who waive tenure protections.
    Bombshell and unprecedented were words used among lawmakers to describe the night's action.

    State Superintendent Tommy Bice and the Alabama Association of School Boards withdrew their support from the legislation after the change.
    "NONE of the added language to the Flex Bill has been vetted with us at the State Department/State Board of Education. There are SIGNIFICANT negative financial implications for all of Alabama's public schools. THIS IS NO LONGER THE BILL I GAVE MY SUPPORT TO!" said a statement by Bice that was distributed to lawmakers.

    Republicans in bombshell move push through bill giving tax credits for kids at 'failing' schools to go to private schools (updated with video and audio) | al.com

    School Board Association Director Sally Howell said, "We are greatly disappointed."

    Opposing lawmakers said they had no time to read the bill that came out of conference committee.

    Bentley said he knew about some of the ideas in the bill for several days. Marsh said he pushed through passage instead of waiting through the weekend, because the pressure on these members would have been so intense."

    Bentley and Republicans held a press conference tonight to cheer the bill's passage.

    Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, said the bill will "provide some competition for these failing schools."

    "In the business world if you are not doing a good job, and someone comes in and does a better job, you either get better or you go out of business," Hubbard said.

    Marsh said schools now have incentive to improve.
    "We want a successful public school system," Marsh said.
    http://blog.al.com/wire/2013/02/republicans_push_through_bill.html#incart_river_de fault


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    Super Moderator Newmexican's Avatar
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    Mobile schools superintendent praises Alabama Accountability Act's flexibility, cautions careful transfer research


    By Kelli Dugan

    on March 01, 2013


    The Alabama Accountability Act was met Friday with predominant optimism by Mobile area education officials and parents despite its abrupt revision and passage late Thursday.

    “We look forward to learning more about this and seeing what type of guidelines the governor and legislators will provide, but we’ll move ahead and see what we can do to take the most advantage of this,” said Martha Peek, superintendent of the Mobile County Public Schools System.

    At its core, the bill provides income tax credits to parents of students in poorly performing schools intended to offset the cost of enrolling their children in an alternative private school or “non-failing” public school.

    “In looking at the best intent of the legislators, I’m sure that they must have felt they were acting in the best interests of the students. I just personally would have liked to have had time to have conversations with the legislators – to have talked to them about this and to have had the opportunity to share with them what we’re already doing in Mobile County,” said Peek, who oversees the state’s largest public school system with some 60,000 students.

    “I’m sure the flexibility is still there. That we can continue to work and design programs or curriculum processes through a flexibility bill that will continue to be innovative and continue to meet the needs of our students,” she said.

    Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley touted the measure moments after its late-night passage as an economic equalizer for students statewide.

    “Local school systems will have the flexibility to make more decisions on behalf of their students. Families will have new options if their children are stuck in failing schools. All children, regardless of their family's income or where they live, will have the opportunity to receive a quality education,” Bentley said.

    Alabama State Board of Education member Tracy Roberts said she has not yet had time to read the bill in its entirety, but she is very encouraged by the measure’s potential to spawn innovation.

    “I’m very excited about the flexibility this creates for our schools. There are school systems that want to be innovative and do creative things to meet the needs of their particular systems, but we have guidelines in place that can prevent that type of progress. I think this will be great for innovation across the state of Alabama,” said Roberts, whose District 1 represents portions of Mobile and all of Baldwin Escambia, Covington, Conecuh, Crenshaw and Butler counties.

    “I think this is a great opportunity for schools to be creative in how they serve their communities,” she said.

    Terry Wilhite, spokesman for Baldwin County Public Schools, said the school system is evaluating the bill and its potential impact before issuing any comment.

    “(It’s) too early to determine the precise ramifications,” Wilhite said.

    Meanwhile, Peek said although she was personally surprised by the abrupt passage of legislation altered so heavily at the last minute, she does not anticipate the measure having a substantial impact on enrollment in Mobile County schools.

    “The bill which I think we, as educators, were aware of and supporting was eight pages, and it was replaced by a 27-page document which I have not seen or read yet, so yes, it was surprising to have this take place, but the idea of moving students from failing schools is not new, and we have not seen a lot of flight when this does take place,” she said, noting transfers from failing to non-failing schools were a major tenet of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, and Mobile County has also been known to grant transfers “for specific reasons” unrelated to school performance.

    What’s new under the revised school flexibility act, she said, is that parents will now be free to send their children enrolled in “failing” public schools to private institutions, and she cautions them to research any such decision thoroughly before uprooting a student.

    “We have very good private schools in Mobile County that are good neighbors, and we respect them, but as a note of caution, there are schools that I hope people will look at very carefully,” Peek said, noting private schools are not necessarily held to strict accountability reporting standards.

    “I’m sure some parents are looking forward to this and very excited about it, but I also know that in Mobile County we’ve been doing some very innovative and forward-moving programs that I think are very well thought of by our parents, so I don’t think we’ll see a great deal of change in our (enrollment),” she said.

    Maddy Culliver of Mobile said Peek might not see drop-offs in current students, but what about children such as her pre-schooler, toddler and infant who are not yet on the public school radar.

    “I don’t think I’d need to think twice about it,” said Culliver. “We were already scrimping and saving to find some way to be able to afford (private school) when the time came, and now there will be an actual financial incentive. I think it’s the parents who never enroll their kids that are going to hurt the system more than any who might think about leaving.”

    Parent David Harper, however, said he’s thrilled to be given a choice in the matter.

    “I have two boys who mean the world to me, and it breaks my heart that where they go to school is based on a neighborhood their mother and I chose before they were even born. Having a choice makes all the difference,” he said.

    Mobile schools superintendent praises Alabama Accountability Act's flexibility, cautions careful transfer research | al.com





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