Governor Robert Bentley alluded to disagreements and confusion with members of the legislature over the controversial school flexibility and tax credit bill, the so-called, "Alabama Accountability Act" during a speech Monday morning.
Gov. Bentley spoke at a breakfast hosted by the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce and said, "There is no excuse to have a failing school in this state. That's why I was so much for the flexibility part.
"The other part," Gov. Bentley told the crowd of approximately 500, "really overshadowed the good part of the bill, the flexibility part."
The governor signed the bill into law after a Montgomery judge blocked the bill from going to his desk, saying the legislature didn't follow its own rules when it passed the bill.
The Accountability Act was quickly passed by both the House and Senate with major changes on February 28 after about three weeks of negotiations and public committee hearings on what was a nine page bill focused on giving school systems more flexibility as to how they spent state dollars and how they designed their curricula.
Republicans added 19 pages to the bill that included provisions for parents to earn tax credits to move their child out of a failing public school and into a non-failing public or private school.
The Alabama legislature approved changes to the Accountability Act last week, including a section that allows all schools to reject students attempting to transfer from a failing school.
The governor also said he planned on sending an executive amendment to the legislature on the school flexibility and tax credit bill. He said he didn't want the state to financially support private education.
Gov. Bentley's comments on the tax credits were some of the first he has made publicly. He didn't explicitly say they were a problem, but it was clear that even he took issue with how the law written.
On March 14, the day the governor signed the Alabama Accountability Act into law, he did say that the bill had problems but refused to go into detail as to what those problems were.
"I don't want to talk about the problems" Gov. Bentley said at the time. "What I want to talk about is the flexibility and the good things that we have in this bill. I just said that all bills have problems and they do."
The governor also reiterated his stance during the breakfast that the tax credits should only go to families with children who are currently enrolled in failing schools.
Gov. Bentley said, "It has never been my goal to have a bill that supports private education."
The bill's sponsor in the Alabama House of Representatives disagreed with that position when changes to the law passed two weeks ago.
Rep. Chad Fincher, (R - Semmes), said state funds could be a valuable resource to support private schools in areas where children don't have a better public school option.
"I've heard stories where (schools) are dwindling in number, they're almost ready to close" Rep. Fincher said. "This may be an opportunity to provide new enrollment, new students, which is also considered funding to keep those doors open for those children."
Lawyers for the Alabama Department of Education, one of the agencies tasked with enforcing and enacting the new law, interpreted the tax credit language in the Alabama Accountability Act as only applying to children leaving failing schools, and not children currently enrolled in private schools but are zoned for failing schools.
A spokeswoman for the Alabama Department of Education said she believes the Department of Revenue will determine how the tax credits are distributed because they enforce tax policy in the state, but says the governor has the final say in the matter.
The governor said if he chooses to send the legislature an executive amendment to the Accountability Act, he would make it public by Wednesday.
The legislature's final meeting day is Monday, May 20.
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