Opening the Schoolhouse Doors Alabama
Opening the Schoolhouse Doors
Tax Credits and Educational Access in Alabama
By Dick M. Carpenter II, Ph.D. and Angela Erickson
In 2013, Alabama adopted the Alabama Accountability Act, an education reform measure that includes two new school choice programs that extend a lifeline to Alabama students trapped in failing public schools. One program offers a tax credit to help offset the cost of tuition for families who move their children from public schools designated as “failing” by the state to a private school. The other encourages millions in new private school scholarships for lower-income families by offering a tax credit for corporate and individual donations to scholarship funds.
Shortly after the reforms were adopted, the Alabama Education Association and other opponents filed a lawsuit claiming, among other things, the tax credits violate the state constitution’s prohibition on funding religious institutions. Not only does this argument contradict long-standing Alabama Supreme Court precedent, it also flies in the face of decades of similar programs already operating in Alabama, as detailed in this report.
At least six other programs, some of them dating to the 1970s, give participating students a free choice of public, private or religious schools. In all of these programs, like the new tax credits, the funding supports the students, not the schools they happen to choose. A ruling against the tax credits would jeopardize not only the hopes children desperate to escape failing public schools, but also educational support for more than 15,000 other students.