Lawmakers, parents angered by Accountability Act overturn - WSFA.com: News Weather and Sports for Montgomery, AL.

Lawmakers, parents angered by Accountability Act overturn

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Circuit Judge Gene Reese ruled Wednesday that the Alabama Accountability Act is unconstitutional. (Source: MGN Online) Circuit Judge Gene Reese ruled Wednesday that the Alabama Accountability Act is unconstitutional. (Source: MGN Online)
HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) -

Lawmakers on both party lines have been asked for their reactions regarding Wednesday's ruling overturning the Alabama Accountability Act.

Two Republicans in the State House of Representatives said the act was the first opportunity for students to get a choice when it comes to education.

Representative Phil Williams said if that opportunity is stripped away, it ultimately affects the children. He said he is not necessarily surprised by the ruling, saying that today it's rare to have a bill that is not challenged in court.

Williams said the bill rocked the status quo, but in a good way, adding that he is confident that a wave of education reform is on the way, whether this bill ends up succeeding or not.

Representative Mike Ball said he expected opposition, and also expressed confidence the appellate court will overturn the ruling. Ball said everyone should be looking out for who is most important: the children. He said the Accountability Act is about giving people choice.

"There are many who see this as a threat to public schools," said Ball. "I don't see it that way. There's been a lot of misinformation, miscommunication, a lot of fear. Anytime you make changes or upset the status quo, you see fear. We've just got to work through it."

Senate Minority Leader Craig Ford praised the judge, saying the law was unconstitutional from day one. He called Wednesday's ruling a victory for public education. Republican Senate Leader Del marsh said the law has already proven to be a success, and he is confident the ruling will be overturned on appeal, a sentiment echoed by Attorney General Luther Strange.

Rep. Ball said the next step in the process is to go to the civil appeals court. He predicts whoever wins at that level will appeal to the State Supreme Court.

Political experts do think the fight is far from over, but it may also come down to who Alabamians vote to put in office in the general elections this fall.

Those who support the act see it as a way to support children who many not have the means to transfer out of failing schools. Opponents see it as a way of draining taxpayer dollars away from public education.

Political analyst Waymon Burke said that the future majority should be kept in mind; if Republicans remain, the Accountability Act will likely stick around.

"If Republicans were to lose the supermajority, it will likely force some type of compromise, with moderate Republicans and Democrats to perhaps change the law," Burke said. "At least, that's what many who oppose the law hope will occur."

52 students statewide transferred using tax credits to go to private schools, based on a poll done by the Alabama Department of Education at the start of the 2013-14 school year.

The Department of Revenue said in 2013, taxpayers donated $25 million to pay for scholarships through organizations for children to leave failing schools under the AAA in 2013. So far in 2014, $7.8 million has been donated for scholarships.

The department believes more scholarships have been awarded this year than last.

At the district level, following through with the law wasn't as simple. Last year, school officials with Huntsville City Schools said more than 500 parents applied for transfers. Only 295 were approved based on space in the school. Of those, only eight fell under the Accountability Act for approval.

In a statement Wednesday, Huntsville City Schools said:

This law began as the Alabama Flexibility Act with the purpose of giving school districts more ability to use innovative methods in the classroom.  The legislation was changed, without any prior notification, to the Alabama Accountability Act, which added 20 additional pages to the existing document. 

Within a few short hours, the new bill was voted on and approved, without any input from local or state education experts.  The legislation created a flawed standard to define a "failing school" by looking at a combination of data that is six to seven years old.  When the list was first released last year, three of our most improved schools were included.  

State Superintendent, Dr. Tommy Bice noted that he could not remove any such school from the list, because the new law would make it "illegal" to do so.  Huntsville ranked 6th out of 134 school systems in the state in terms of the percentage increase in the graduation rate for the 2013 reporting period.  Huntsville City Schools, like many other districts, still maintains that the Alabama Accountability Act does not give parents a true representation of how their school is performing, nor does it serve in the best educational needs of the students.

Scholarship parent Larry Newby doesn't mince words about the judge's decision.

"He's taking away a great opportunity for a lot of kids," Newby said.

Newby said his two grandsons are thriving at Union Chapel Christian Academy after he got them out of a frightening situation at Ed White Middle School, which he could not have done without an Accountability Act scholarship.

The Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund said more than 6,600 children have applied and want the option to choose a school that is the right fit, and 750 have already enrolled in their new school. They said the decision is "devastating for parents and children alike."

Scholarship donations were officially cut off Wednesday by the state revenue department. Fund administrators said they have enough money to last this coming school year, but it will run out.

"We've yet again perpetuated mediocrity," said Nancy Archuleta of Pope John Paul II Catholic School, who worries about the students who will now be shut out. "We've really hurt the children with this. And that is my biggest concern. The minute I heard this, my first thought was, 'Oh, my goodness, we've lied to these children again.'"

The Black Alliance for Educational Options said, "The children will lose without educational options. Today's decision puts us right back to where we started, too many students stuck in failing schools."

Newby is one of many parents who just want things to continue as they had.

"I wish that it would continue to go on; not only for the safety and protection and great education for my only two children, but for other kids and parents as well."

Copyright 2014 WAFF. All rights reserved. 

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