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Alabama Governor Robert Bentley today signed into law his state’s first private school choice program—a K–12 tuition tax credit—avoiding what was perhaps the most ridiculous attempt yet to thwart efforts to enact a voucher or tax-credit plan anywhere.
Bentley put his signature on the Alabama Accountability Act one day after the state’s Supreme Court lifted a restraining order that prevented him from even getting the bill, which passed two weeks ago along party lines. The Alabama Education Association had convinced a state judge last week to block legislative staffers from sending the bill to the governor, arguing that too many Republican lawmakers privately discussed rewriting a separate measure to include the tax credit without calling a public meeting.
The Alabama Supreme Court sensibly determined that the restraining order issued by Judge Charles Price was “premature.” The bill hadn’t even become law, and according to the top justices, there was no “existing case or controversy” that needed adjudicating.
In other words, there was no one harmed. As political scientist Joshua Dunn noted, courts don’t typically intrude in the internal workings of a state legislature, as a matter of separation of powers. The notion that the teacher union might have suffered “irreparable harm” without the restraining order (Judge Price’s words) was ludicrous.
Now that the bill is law, Bentley and others who supported the tax credit can expect a lawsuit. And families whose children are zoned to a failing public school and who are hoping for the private school tuition break this law promises can expect an unstable environment for years to come. The House Democratic leader called the tax credit “a voucher program, a charter school program, and a diversion of the Education Trust Fund all rolled into one.” That indicates that no school choice plan is acceptable to the public education establishment in the Heart of Dixie, nor to its allies in the legislature (Alabama is one of only eight states without a charter school law).
But whatever happens next, and however disappointing that litigation may be, at least the Alabama Supreme Court corrected what was a mockery of the legislative process.