MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - The School Flexibility Bill or Accountability Act of 2013 is headed for the desk of Alabama Governor Robert Bentley.
The bill allows schools and school systems to waive, or flex, out of certain state laws and policies.
It was a heated debate in Montgomery Thursday, February 28, particularly in the Senate. It was all over the School Flexibility Bill.
The bill is designed to allow schools or school systems to apply to waive a number of Alabama laws and policies. The house passed the bill and the senate added some amendments Thursday. The amendments largely addressed the concerns of the Alabama Education Association's concerns.
The house did not approve those amendments. The bill's sponsor Representative Chad Fincher met with other leaders of the senate and house to reconcile the differences.
"We had to reach a compromise. We had to what are we going to do how are we going to get a bill passed," Fincher said.
The bill left committee with a more than 10 page addition.
Jesse McDaniel with the AEA said without any public involvement, the bill was transformed. He said it is "devastating to public education."
"They have had this up their sleeves the whole time. This was something they kept secret for a week? Two weeks? Who knows how long? This is an example of politics at its worst," McDaniel said.
In its new form, HB 84 now also gives parents with children in failing schools the option to send them elsewhere, if it's a private school or parochial, the state will pay up to $4,400 for tuition in the form of a tax return. The tuition will be paid by the parent and then refunded at the end of the year, dollar for dollar, in the state tax return.
"It's going to basically privatize education in a lot of ways, and it's going to give tax payer money to private schools or religious schools," McDaniel said.
There are 15 failing schools in Mobile County and none in Baldwin.
Fincher said it's a way to get failing schools to raise the bar.
"We are focusing on improving those schools by the point that we are going to cause competition that always gets a better result," Fincher said.
The bill also gives companies, people and organizations a tax break if they donate to scholarships. The return comes out to 50 percent for companies and dollar for dollar for individuals.
"The State of Alabama is going to be losing money on the tax credit. They are going to be losing money on these deductions these big businesses are going to claim because they are funding these scholarships for poor children," said McDaniel.
Fincher said this is not about taking money out of the public schools; it's about inspiring them to work harder.
"All schools have to succeed. If you don't succeed then you are going to lose your students because parents won't let their kids be stuck in a failing school system," said Fincher.
Late Thursday night, the new bill was up for a vote. We wanted to know why the legislature didn't wait to vote.
"We had an agreement by the conference committee and the next line of action was to go to the house," Fincher said.
The bill ultimately passed both the Senate and the House and is now headed to the governor's desk.
"A sneak attack is what it was. It didn't reveal itself until the 11th hour and didn't allow time for any discussion or debate no alternatives no amendments just rammed it right through," said McDaniel.
Fincher said they did nothing wrong.
"We followed the rules and the rules are set up in place to work and they were followed and a bill came out that's agreed why elected officials from all across the state we represent our constituents the people that put us in office. Were there voice," said Fincher.
The Governor said he will sign the bill on Tuesday.
FOX10 News reached out to Archbishop Thomas Rodi for his reaction.
He said "This would allow low income people the opportunity to get a good education for their children. Why shouldn't the poor have access to quality education? "
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