In a very important lawsuit, Montgomery County Circuit Judge Gene Reese ruled on May 28 that the Alabama Accountability Act, the so-called school “choice law,” is unconstitutional. The decision will be appealed. Judge Reese, an experienced and highly respected jurist, issued his ruling in the lawsuit filed in August 2013 by state Sen. Quinton Ross, Alabama Education Association President Anita Gibson and Lowndes County School Superintendent Daniel Boyd.
This Act was passed by the Alabama Legislature last year. Judge Reese ruled that the Legislature violated the single-subject rule in Sections 45 and 71 of the state Constitution, the original purpose doctrine in Section 61 and the three-readings requirement in Section 63. An injunction was issued by Judge Reese blocking implementation of the law prospectively.
The accountability act (House Bill 84) was originally called the school flexibility bill. After passing both the House and Senate with some differences, a conference committee on Feb. 28 tripled the size of the bill. The Legislature quickly approved the brand new bill that night. The expanded bill, renamed the Alabama Accountability Act, added provisions that created a program to allow parents of students in public schools designated as failing to receive an income tax credit to help pay the costs of transferring to a private school or a better public school. A second new section added by the conference committee created a program to offer scholarships for private school tuition.
Judge Reese agreed with the Plaintiffs’ contention that the law violates the “single subject” rule in the state Constitution. It certainly appears that it does violate that rule. The original bill allowed local school systems to enter flexibility contracts with the state to obtain waivers from some policies and laws so that local systems could better meet their own needs. Judge Reese ruled that the tax credit and scholarship provisions added by the conference committee broke the single subject rule. He wrote:
The tax-credit programs have no relation to the flexibility-contract provisions, and these sections do not interact with each other.
Judge Reese ruled that the Act also violated Section 45 because it repeals an earmark of state sales tax dollars to public education and instead appropriates it to be used to reimburse parents for the cost of enrolling their children in public schools. “This constitutes two subjects in violation of Section 45,” Judge Reese wrote. He ruled that the tax credit and scholarship program violated the constitutional provision that “no bill shall be so altered or amended on its passage through either house as to change its original purpose.” Again, that ruling appears to be correct.
Section 63 of the state Constitution requires bills to be read on three different days in each house. Judge Reese said in his order that there was no dispute the tax-credit legislation was not read on three different days. He wrote: “to the contrary, it was introduced, adopted by the conference committee, and passed by both Houses in a single afternoon.” Based on what I have read, I don’t believe this Act met constitutional requirements. But more importantly, it further undermines public education, which has been sorely neglected for years. It makes no sense to pull students out of a school deemed to be failing and then leave that school to really fail.
Source: Associated Press
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