Ala. Dept. of Revenue Proposes Rule for School Accountability Act

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MONTGOMERY, Alabama -- Students must have attended a “failing” public school for a semester before their parents are eligible for the state’s new private school tax credit, under rules being proposed by the Department of Revenue.

A semester was decided as the dividing line to prevent someone from enrolling their child in a failing school for a few days to try to claim the tax credit, said Deputy Co-Commissioner of Revenue Joe W. Garrett, Jr.

The exception to the prior enrollment requirement will be for a student, who because of their age, is new to a school, Garrett said. An example would be a kindergarten student about to enroll in an elementary school that has been designated as failing.

Another exception will be made if a family makes a "bona fide move" to an address zoned for a failing school. To be a bona fide move, a "family must have moved its household furniture into the new physical residence and all principal members of the family must reside at the new residence," according to the proposed rule.

The Alabama Accountability Act will give tax credits -- estimated at $3,500 per year per child -- that families at schools designated as failing can claim to offset the cost of tuition at a private school or a non-failing public school. The law also gives tax credits for donations to scholarship programs for transferring students.

The Department of Revenue has created a guidance page for parents, schools and people who want to participate in the scholarship program.

The Department of Revenue, under rules being developed for the administration of the Alabama Accountability Act, has proposed that:

1. Current private school students, who are zoned for failing schools, will not be eligible for the tax credits.

2. Private schools must participate in the scholarship program established by the Accountability Act in order for families to get the tax credit. Private schools must register their intent to participate with the department.

3. Scholarship Granting Organizations under the Alabama Accountability Act must get approved by the Department of Revenue to accept donations for which donors will get a tax credit under the Accountability Act.

However, the proposals are not final.

The proposed rules must go through a public comment period before final adoption.

Legislators will also still have input. Agency rules must go before the Legislative Council, a panel of legislators.

The Legislative Council can block a rule -- an action that must later be sustained by the Alabama Legislature -- or suggest that an agency change a proposed rule.

"This is the beginning of the rule-making process," Garrett said.

Gov. Robert Bentley said last week that he agreed with “every one” of the rules proposed by the department.

Bentley, a Republican, has disagreed with some GOP legislators, over the eligibility of current private school students to take the tax credit. Some legislators thought they should be eligible. Bentley said they shouldn't be.

“That’s the way I read the bill and I read the bill 10 times at least,” Bentley said.

Bentley said he did not pressure the department to rule his way.

“They’re the legal people. I let them make the decision on that. I do agree with it,” Bentley said.

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