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Area school leaders surprised by flexibility bill changes

Published 12:48pm Friday, March 1, 2013

School leaders across the state were surprised by the Alabama Legislature after it passed a bill, which will give tax credits to parents who pull their kids out of “failing” public schools and put their kids in private schools.

The bill entitled “The Alabama Accountability Act” was originally supposed to allow schools and school systems to apply flexibility from certain rules and regulations, allowing them to create innovative education ideas.

However, Republican legislators added nine pages to the bill, which included the voucher-type program.

Hartselle School Superintendent Dr. Mike Reed said he originally supported the bill, but now doesn’t know how it will affect education system.

“I’m just really disappointed that Legislature made the additions to the bill before it was vetted with the Department of Education,” Reed said. “Everyone was working together on this bill. No one was aware that they were going to add this to the bill.”

Gov. Robert Bentley said he is planning to sign the bill, even though State School Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice has expressed his displeasure for the Legislature’s actions.

“This is historic education reform that will benefit students and families across the state,” Bentley said in a press release. “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.

“As promised, this bill gives school districts flexibility without infringing on the rights and responsibilities of our classroom teachers,” Bentley added. “This bill shows that we have confidence in our local educators to know what’s best for their students.”

Under the legislation (House Bill 84 – School Flexibility), school systems will be able to create flexibility plans that will be submitted for review and approval by local and state education leaders. The legislation requires public hearings and public input before any school flexibility plans are approved. As a condition of increased flexibility, school districts will be required to show improved outcomes of student achievement.

The bill creates tax credits for families with children who attend persistently low-performing schools. The credits will give those children new options by providing credits to attend a non-failing public school or a non-public school. The legislation also creates tax credits for businesses that donate to nonprofits that provide scholarships for students to attend non-failing public schools or non-public schools.

Reed said the bill shouldn’t affect Hartselle immediately.

“I still haven’t read the bill, so I don’t know whether or not Hartselle will be affected at all,” Reed said.

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