Report: Education tax credits could cost state $367 million

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  • Amid screaming, Ala. legislature passes expanded school flexibility bill

Report: Education tax credits could cost state $367 million

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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

The Alabama Association of School Boards calculated the first cost estimate of House Bill 84, the widely expanded school flexibility measure that also included tax credits for parents who move their child from a failing school into a better one which includes private schools.

The cost could be tremendous.

According to the analysis by AASB the tax credits could cost the Education Trust Fund between $59 million and $367 million. The wide range is attributed to the unknown nature of who will take advantage of the credits, as well as how many.

The study of the legislation accounts for the scenarios that include the families of private and public school children taking advantage of the incentive which could reach as much as $4,000 per child.

The AASB supported the original school flexibility bill that simply included the ability of local school districts to apply for waivers from some laws from the State Board of Education. The original HB84 was 8 pages long while the expanded version that eventually passed over the screaming and shouting of Senate Democrats and Republicans, was a significantly longer 27 pages.

Sally Howell, AASB's Executive Director said, "To fundamentally change or amend is something we've never seen. This is a lousy way to make public policy."

The AASB was one of a host of education associations in Alabama that never saw the changes that eventually passed. The group pulled its support the day after final passage in the State House.

"There's no guarantee that this is going to produce better results for students. Parents aren't assured that their children are going to do better" Howell said during an interview Monday. "What about doing something to transform the entire school and innovate across the board?"

Gov. Robert Bentley said Monday that the criticism of the bill is unfounded, especially from parents.

"If you don't live in a failing school system, it's not going to affect you" Gov. Bentley told reporters after a speaking engagement at Montgomery's Renaissance Hotel. "Don't get all upset. It's not even going to affect you one way or the other unless you want to give scholarships to poor children who are in failing school systems."

[DOCUMENT: List of failing schools (.pdf)]
Note: List is unofficial and is compiled by Senate GOP caucus.

The Department of Education also released its analysis of House Bill 84. Neither the department nor that Superintendent of Education had any knowledge of the changes until the bill was passed by a Republican controlled conference committee on a 4-2 vote Thursday afternoon.

[DOCUMENT: ALSDE Analysis of Ala. Accountability Act of 2013]

Alabama's Superintendent of Education Dr. Tommy Bice said when the bill passed the legislature that he did not support it. The report issued Monday presented a laundry list of issues ranging from how the bill defines a failing school to possible logistical problems that could cost the state millions.

They include the fact that the state's $52 million shortfall in providing adequate transportation for students is not addressed, especially given the fact that students could be going to schools far from their original school.

Bice also included that in the case of a student who has Special Education needs, a local school system that child originates from would be responsible for paying another district or a private school for those needs. Those funds would come in the form of taxpayer dollars.

The Alabama Department of Education did not offer an estimate as to how much the bill could cost the education budget but did say the impact could be far-reaching. In the report, Dr. Bice wrote "there is a yet-to-be-determined negative impact on the total potential income to the ETF.  This will not only affect the K-12 budget but also the budgets of the Department of Postsecondary Education and Institutions of Higher Education.

The AASB along with the School Superintendents of Alabama sent a letter to the governor asking him to present executive amendments to the bill.

[DOCUMENT: Letter to Gov. Bentley regarding HB 84 (.pdf)]

Gov. Bentley could sign the bill Tuesday and said after it passed the legislature that he had no plans to present executive amendments.

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