Alabama School Superintendent Tommy Bice says the Alabama Department of Education has been in contact with the U.S. Department of Justice which has questions about the passage of HB 84, or the Alabama Accountability Act.
Bice says the questions specifically focus on the provisions of the act that allow schools to reject students transferring from failing schools.
"They're very interested in the final passage of this bill" Dr. Bice told the State Board of Education during a work session.
Bice said his conversations with the Justice Department specifically focused on the amendment to the law that lawmakers approved on the final day of the legislative session that allows all schools to reject students attempting to transfer from failing schools.
"That has raised a huge red flag with the justice department" Bice said.
Governor Bentley signed the act into law on March 14, after a two week delay due to a lawsuit alleging that the Alabama legislature broke its own rules to pass the bill. The Alabama Supreme Court eventually threw out a lower court's temporary injunction, sending the bill to the governor's desk.
Most recently the Alabama Legislature rejected proposed changes to the law proposed by Governor Bentley. Those changes would have placed a two year delay on tax credits given to families of children in failing schools to attend different public or private schools.
State Board of Education Member Dr. Charles Elliott was also critical of the Accountability Act during the meeting. "They [the republicans] didn't write this. They didn't go home and write this on their laptop."
No member of the board spoke up in defense of the law.
Bice claimed that he informed top state officials and lawmakers of his conversations with the Justice Department. However, representatives of Gov. Robert Bentley, Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh all said they had no knowledge of Bice's communications with Washington.
In a statement released late Wednesday afternoon, Dr. Bice attempted to clarify his statements saying, "The contact with USDOJ can be characterized as a discussion with associated counsel, preliminary in scope, of the Alabama Accountability Act and its potential impact on local desegregation orders. Since final passage of the Amendment to the Act, there have been no further discussions with USDOJ. "
In related news, Bice announced that the Department of Education would release its list of "failing schools" according to the new law, on June 13.
Bice reiterated that the amendment to the law gave him additional discretion in determining if a school is failing. He said he will not put a school on the list that has shown improvement in recent years, even if the school falls directly under the definition of the law.
The definition of a failing school that lawmakers approved was completely different than the one they approved in a new school grading system in 2011, and different than the definition currently used by the State Department of Education.
Dr. Bice said he expected around 90 schools to be on the failing schools list.
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