Will the accountability act ruling affect local schools?

By GINNY COOPER / Staff Writer

Cornerstone Christian School Principal Jay Adams said it is “unclear” to what extent Montgomery County Circuit Judge Gene Reese’s May 28 ruling, which declared the Alabama Accountability Act unconstitutional, will affect his school.

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The Alabama Accountability Act of 2013 allowed for flexibility contracts between the State Board of Education and local school districts, which allows local systems to flex out of certain laws, policies and regulations to better meet their needs.

The act also created a program that allowed families with students in a failing school to receive an income tax credit to help fund the cost of sending the students to a nonpublic school or a non-failing public school.

In addition, the act allowed individuals and corporations who donated to a “scholarship granting organization” to receive tax credits to “reimburse them in full for contributions,” according to documents in the case.

Defendants in the case filed a motion to stay the injunction pending the appeal on May 29. If granted, a stay would allow the act to remain in effect while the appeal is pending.

“The AAA was the first real step toward a free-market solution for education in Alabama,” Adams said, and claimed that the county spent $243 million on 22,783 students in the last year—approximately $11,000 per student—while most private schools in the county charge “less than that amount in tuition and fees.”

“A free market is awfully good at finding ways to do things efficiently,” Adams said.
“Bureaucracy tends toward inefficiency, as it always has.”

The Linda Nolen Learning Center in Pelham is currently the county’s only school that was included on the Alabama Department of Education’s “failing schools” list for 2014 after meeting criteria as a “persistently low-performing school” as outlined in the AAA. The school serves students with significant special needs.

Since Shelby County only has one school marked as “failing,” local private schools do not benefit from this portion of the act, Kingwood Christian School Principal Ruth Gray said.

However, the school is currently in the process of joining a local scholarship granting organization to obtain scholarships for low-income students, and this process will be affect by the decision.

“We are working cooperatively with our school attorney, our accrediting association, AISA, as well as other local private schools to determine our position as it relates to the overall Act,” Gray said in a statement.

Cornerstone Christian School recently announced a new partnership with Scholarships for Kids, a program that complies with the Alabama Accountability Act.

“We are in touch with our partner organization to discuss next steps,” Adams said, concerning the scholarship fund.

Shelby County Schools Superintendent Randy Fuller declined to comment, as the decision is being appealed.

As of May 30, Wayne Vickers, Superintendent of Alabaster City Schools had not responded to calls for a statement on the ruling.

Many private schools are still assessing the overall impact the ruling.

“Our plan is to comply with the law, of course, while continuing to insist that a closed system that fears and avoids market competition is detrimental to our students, our state, and our economy,” Adams said.