1 lawsuit against Ala. Accountability Act blocked

Alabama State Capital, Montgomery, Alabama (MGN Online)
Alabama State Capital, Montgomery, Alabama (MGN Online)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – The Alabama Supreme Court on Friday blocked one of the lawsuits challenging a new law that provides state tax credits for some students attending private schools.

Members of the Alabama Education Association had sued legislators. AEA contended the Legislature violated its own rules and the state open meetings law when it passed the Alabama Accountability Act in February.

In a ruling Friday written by Justice Mike Bolin, the all-Republican court said, “The Alabama Constitution does not require the Legislature to conduct its meetings in public.” It also said that “the Open Meetings Law must yield to the Alabama Constitution.”

The Alabama Supreme Court’s decision, which had no dissents, dismissed AEA’s rules challenge by saying, “It is not the function of the judiciary to require the Legislature to follow its own rules.”

Friday’s ruling doesn’t end litigation over the act because two other lawsuits remain.

The Alabama Accountability Act began as legislation to give schools more leeway in complying with state education laws. After the House and Senate passed different versions, a Republican-dominated conference committee wrote a new version, and Republicans quickly pushed it through the House and Senate over the objections of Democrats.

The new version expanded the bill to provide tax credits for families that move their children from failing public schools to non-failing public schools or private schools participating in the transfer program. AEA, the state teachers’ organization, fought the bill, saying the tax credits would reduce funding for public schools.

AEA Associate Executive Secretary Greg Graves said, “While we respect the court’s decision, we disagree with it.” He said the organization is still reviewing the ruling and had no further comment.

One of the legislators who was sued, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, said he was glad to see the court block AEA’s efforts to stop the school choice law.

“This is clearly a win for students trapped in failing schools by maintaining their ability to transfer to a better school,” Marsh, R-Anniston, said.

AEA Executive Secretary Henry Mabry said the legal battle is not over because AEA members have a separate lawsuit against other state officials pending in Montgomery County Circuit Court. That suit raises legal issues different from the ones in the first suit. The Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center also has a suit challenging the law pending in federal court.

One of the law’s supporters, Republican House Speaker Mike Hubbard of Auburn, said, “I’m confident our opponents’ frivolous efforts to legislate from the courtroom will not be successful.”

Alabama has 78 public schools rated as failing. The state Department of Education recently reported that 52 students had used the law to transfer to private schools Proponents of the new law expect the number to increase for the next school year because the lists of failing schools and participating public schools weren’t established until shortly before classes began for the 2013-2014 school year.

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