By PHILLIP RAWLS
MONTGOMERY, Ala. - A Mobile mom trying to protect Alabama's private school tax credits said the money is allowing her sixth-grade son to avoid a failing public school and allowing her to make a choice that would have been unaffordable.
Tequila Rogers and a Montgomery couple are asking a judge to let them intervene in a lawsuit filed by the Alabama Education Association that challenges the Alabama Accountability Act. The parents want to side with state officials who support the law. It provides tax credits of about $3,500 per year for parents who move their child from a failing public school to a participating private school. More than 50 students have used the law to transfer to private schools in the first semester of application.
Rogers said she did not want her son to go to Booker T. Washington Middle School because of the academic reputation of the school, which is ranked a failing under the Accountability Act. She and she and her 11-year-old son, Christian, are not Roman Catholics, but they chose Little Flower Catholic School because of its academics. She said paying the nearly $4,200 annual cost would have been impossible without the tax credit and she would have had to send her son to the failing school.
"The tax credit is allowing us to be able to receive the great education that I want for my child and also he's placed in an environment that is loving, caring, and very educational friendly," she said at a news conference Thursday in Montgomery.
Danyal and Mark Jones of Montgomery said in court papers they chose to move their daughter from Brewbaker Middle School to Resurrection Catholic School for the eighth grade. The parents said in court papers that their daughter was not getting individual attention at Brewbaker, while the Catholic school offered tutoring. Like the Rogers, the Jones family is not Catholic.
They are being represented by the Institute for Justice from Arlington, Va. The nonpartisan group has helped defend many school choice laws around the country.
AEA spokeswoman Amy Marlowe said the intervention was not a surprise. "This is an orchestrated political maneuver that was shopped around throughout Alabama and has finally been filed by attorneys from outside the state," she said.
Montgomery County Circuit Judge Gene Reese will decide whether to let the parents intervene. He has scheduled AEA's suit for trial beginning March 17. That means one of the major laws to come out of the 2013 legislative session will go to trial midway through the Legislature's 2014 session. Attorneys for the state are seeking to have it dismissed before trial.
The Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery has filed a separate suit challenging the law in federal court. Bert Gall, senior attorney for the Institute for Justice, said the group chose not to try to intervene in that case because it considers the AEA suit the more substantive of the two.
The institute's entrance into the Alabama case is being supported by the Black Alliance for Educational Options. The state director, former Democratic state Rep. John Hilliard of Birmingham, said, "We believe every parent should have a choice."