House OKs expanding program helping pay for private school

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The Alabama House on Thursday voted to expand a program that helps some families pay for private school, but it also wants to tighten restrictions on scholarships and the groups that distribute them.

The House of Representatives voted 68-26 to approve changes to the Alabama Accountability Act. The Alabama Accountability Act provides income-tax credits — a dollar-for-dollar reduction on an income-tax bill — in exchange for donations to the scholarship-granting organizations. Children in failing public schools have priority for the scholarships. Failing schools are the bottom 6 percent of K-12 schools on standardized test scores.

The bill expands the cumulative yearly cap on donations from $25 million to $30 million. It would also tighten income restrictions on recipients and expand reporting requirements for the organizations that hand out scholarships.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh praised the proposed changes to the program he helped create two years ago. He said the cap needed to be raised after a scholarship granting organization did not raise enough money to renew scholarships while there was ongoing litigation over the program.

“It tightens up a lot of the accountability. I think it makes excellent challenges to the Accountability Act and will allow those worthy students and parents to continue to in the program,” Marsh said.

The bill would also increase reporting requirements and specify that the Department of Revenue can audit the scholarship-granting organizations. The proposal would also tighten income requirements on new scholarship applicants to 185 percent of the federal poverty level. That means a family of four would have to earn $44,123 or less each year to qualify for the scholarship.

The Alabama Senate sent the bill to conference committee to review a House change that will require the Department of Education to maintain a database of scholarship recipients’ test scores.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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