SPLC confident Accountability Act case will move forward
MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -
Alabama's Attorney General Luther Strange said Tuesday that the Southern Poverty Law Center's case to block the Alabama Accountability Act was, "without merit."
"They're not alleging there's anything unconstitutional about the act" said Strange after an event in Wetumpka. The state filed to have the case dismissed in Federal Court.
The SPLC filed a lawsuit last month alleging that the school reform measure that allows students to leave failing schools to attend better public or non-public schools, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution.
Attorneys for the SPLC filed the suit on behalf of students in rural counties like Barbour and Lowndes, alleging that they have no access to better schools while students in other more densely populated areas could use the law to leave their struggling schools.
"Certain groups of citizens, those who live in isolated communities aren't able to take advantage of the act" said Richard Cohen, President of the SPLC. "If we're going to worry about kids in failing schools we ought to worry about all of them and not say only certain kids are going to get those benefits."
In some rural counties, the nearest qualifying private school is more than 20 miles away from some failing schools and a non-failing public school doesn't exist.
The SPLC's case alleges that the state has violated the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution because the law clearly only impacts a specific group of citizens while leaving others out.
So far, approximately 750 students have transferred out of failing schools, as defined in the law. Roughly 50 of those students left to attend private schools. Under the law, families could qualify for tax credits worth up to $3,500 to offset the cost of tuition in order to send a child to a private school.
Cohen said his group supports the mission of putting an end to failing schools, but added that he hopes the state " goes back to the drawing board with the Accountability Act."
He added, "The governor said when he signed this act that it was going to kids a way out of failing schools, regardless of their income and regardless of where they live. If you look at the facts, that's not what's happening and the state should live up to its commitment."
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