In Alabama two weeks ago, the state Legislature pulled an old switcheroo in conference committee to push through a sweeping but focused statewide school choice bill. The bill provides a tuition tax credit (refundable) to any students in districts where there are officially “failing” schools, to attend any school, public or private, of their choice (assuming they meet any other eligibility requirements). It also allows individuals and businesses to take a tax credit for donations to what amounts to a scholarship fund, to be used for the same purpose.
The problem is, the “choice” elements of the bill were not part of the original bill in the state House or the state Senate (instead, it was a narrower “school flexibility” bill, good in itself, but not involving any widespread parental choice). The broader elements of the bill were appended to the bill in conference committee, with almost no debate, and then rushed through both the House and Senate floors with almost no debate, but with huge majorities.
The state education union filed suit, claiming the procedures used violated both the state Constitution and the sate’s unique “Open Meetings” law. While I don’t discuss the constitutional issue here (I don’t think the complaint holds water), I do explain on WKRG-TV in Mobile why schoolchildren will be the winners, and why the law will probably succeed legal challenge based on the Open Meetings law, but also be a short-term political detriment to the Republicans who pushed it through. For school choice advocates, not just locally but nationally, this Alabama brouhaha won’t fade away any time real soon, and it bears close scrutiny on numerous levels. I personally think it is a wonderful bill. But the politics of it all are likely to be dicey for a while. Anyway, again, please watch this very short news segment (3:39) for an overview.