State Education Superintendent Tommy Bice is saying very little about a reported legal inquiry that caused state education officials to delay releasing a list of so-called failing schools under the Alabama Accountability Act.
But he may be shying from a plan to exclude from the list schools that have made significant progress in improving their proficiency scores but would still qualify as failing under the act's broad definition.
"What we come out with will be reflective of what's in the act," Bice said following a state board of education meeting Thursday.
That's a shift from Bice's previous stance on the matter. During a work session two weeks ago, Bice vowed to "fall on the sword" to make sure improving schools don't end up on that list.
Under the act, any school not designated for special education that fell in the bottom 6 percent of math and reading scores statewide for three of the past six years would qualify as failing.
Parents with children in those schools could transfer their children to higher performing public schools or private schools and receive tax credits from state education funds to defer the expense.
Bice has openly criticized the definition of a failing school, calling it "deeply flawed" and saying it would "misidentify failing schools" and "make it a huge number of schools that don't really need it."
The Alabama State Department of Education was slated to release the list of failing schools Thursday -- minus improving schools -- but it announced Wednesday it was delaying the release due to a "legal inquiry."
Bice declined Thursday to say who made the inquiry but said it had nothing to do with entities outside the state when asked if it was initiated by the U.S. Department of Justice in relation to federal desegregation orders that some schools still operate under.
"It's not a problem. It's not a big deal," he said. "But it was one of those things that you wanted to make sure every 'I' is dotted and 'T' is crossed before we came out with that, and I'm glad it came along."
"It caused us to have to go back and do a couple recalculations and do some regulation changes, and we want to make sure when we do release this, we release everything at one time."
Bice said Thursday the department will ask parents who plan to transfer their children to notify the schools by early August to allow them to prepare for the changes.
Carla Snellgrove, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Department of Revenue, said the revenue department will complete by month's end regulations that will determine whether parents who have already enrolled their students in private school will be eligible for the tax credits if they live in a failing school district.
State Republicans attempted to clarify that issue after passing the act during the 2013 legislative session, but they could not reach a consensus.