Parents & teachers react to overturning of Accountability Act

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - A Montgomery judge struck down the Alabama Accountability Act Wednesday, calling it unconstitutional.

The law gave parents the option of removing their children from failing public schools. And if they chose a private school instead, they got a tax credit for tuition costs. On Wednesday, Montgomery Judge Gene Reese ruled it unconstitutional, not only for the way it was rushed to passage in the state house but because it also addresses other educational issues and the Alabama constitution says a single bill can only address a single topic.

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange's office says the state will appeal the ruling.

Parents who earned tax credits for this school year will still get them but many are wondering about next year.

WSFA spoke with private school officials who are worried that the ruling could dash the dreams of some parents who want a better education for their children.

Lisa Schroeder, Director of Churchill Academy, a private K-12 school on Ray Thorington Road in Montgomery, says the Alabama Accountability Act has helped breathe new life into the school and opened doors for a slew of new students.

"It's had such a wonderful impact. We received, in January, 27 new students through the act. It's been such blessing for them and for us. They have brought such joy and some challenge and new life to our school and I really feel like we've, in return, been able to give them a chance at a better education," she said. "Our kids are special needs kids so they were sometimes not getting all that they might have needed in public school settings and so we have been able to offer them a lot more one on one time. It's making a huge, huge difference in their lives."

The Accountability Act allowed Wanda Reynolds to send her four grandchildren to Churchill Academy and she says they benefited from the 12 to one student to teacher ratio.

"Their grades went from D's and F's to all A's in 2.5 months. I mean all four of them are A's. I can't ask for anything better than that and that's all because of the care, the attention and the structure that they have at Churchill," she said.

And 35 new students who applied to Churchill for next year are hoping to have access to Churchill's educational structure.

"It's tragic. These kids who we have enrolled for 2014-2015, the fact that they might not receive an education with us is just heartbreaking because they'll be lost in the system," said Leigh Parker, Churchill Academy Teacher.

"We've seen the changes that it's made in our children's lives and the parent's lives and it's been a tremendous growth for these children and to have it taken away will impact our families greatly," added Kaye Pair, Coordinator of Student Services at Churchill Academy.

The injunction applies prospectively, meaning that it does not affect parent tax credits awarded with respect to the 2013-14 school year or tax credits awarded to Scholarship Granting Organization donors prior to May 28, 2014.

"I will continue to do whatever it is I need to do to support this and see that it continues to be a great thing for our students," Lisa Schroeder said.

The Alabama Revenue Department says taxpayers donated $25 million to pay for scholarships through Scholarship Granting Organizations, or SGOs, for children leaving failing schools under the law. So far in 2014 donations to support SGOs stand at $7.85 million.

The law also allows children to transfer and obtain scholarships as long as they transferred after September 15 of the schools year.

The Revenue Dept. says that SGOs are not required to report scholarships awarded in a given year until June of the following year, so the department will not have the official number of transfers for 2013 for another month. The department says its believes more scholarships have been awarded in 2014 that 2013 but will not know that for sure until June of 2015.

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