July 28, 2014

PLF defends school choice in Alabama

By Jonathan Wood Attorney

PLF has filed an amicus brief in the Alabama Supreme Court defending the constitutionality of school choice in the Heart of Dixie. The Alabama Accountability Act creates a system of tax credits to help parents transfer their kids from failing public schools to better public or private schools. Should be uncontroversial, right?

Wrong. The statute was promptly challenged by the president of the teachers’ union, a public school superintendent, and a state legislator. Defendants were the state auditor and parents of students desperate for opportunity. The plaintiffs raised both procedural and substantive challenges, chiefly about the propriety of any incidental benefits that religious schools might receive and whether the program will increase the state’s deficit.

The trial court sided with the plaintiffs, threatening the last best hope for students. PLF’s brief explains why the trail court shouldn’t have ignored the important role of parental choice in the scheme and, if every study on the fiscal impacts of school choice is any indication, the Accountability Act will reduce burdens on taxpayers rather than increasing them.

The brief highlights the range of options available to parents and how seriously they take this choice. Contrary to the plaintiffs’ assumptions, the parents are not merely being used to funnel money to private institutions. Unless private schools are better than the public options available to parents, no money would ever go to any.

Furthermore, school choice has been saving states money since 1873. Maine and Vermont have aided rural kids attending private schools while saving an average of $6,000 per pupil. More recent studies confirm that Maine and Vermont are not unique. Six empirical studies have analyzed the effect of voucher and tax credit programs on tax-payers. All have found that they save the state money. There’s no reason to assume that Alabama will be any different.

Hopefully, the Alabama Supreme Court will not lose sight of what’s really at stake in this case — the futures of the countless students stuck in 78 public schools that the state acknowledges are failing them.

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