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Alabama's Contentious Education Bill In Limbo As Courts Review Cases

A week after a sweeping and controversial education bill was adopted by the Alabama Legislature, the measure is on hold, with a circuit judge and the state's supreme court reviewing separate lawsuits filed over it. Democrats say Republicans broke the rules when they inserted school choice language into a bill that was originally meant to give school districts flexibility in meeting standards.

After the school bill was sent to a committee, it emerged three times as long, leading many to believe the legislation had been written long in advance. Its provisions include tax credits for parents who move their children from struggling schools to other public schools, or to private schools.

As we reported earlier this week, Montgomery County Circuit Judge Charles Price ordered that the bill not be delivered to Gov. Robert Bentley Tuesday, hours before he intended to sign it into law. That resulted from a lawsuit filed by the Alabama Education Association, which accuses Republicans of breaking the state's Open Meetings laws.

In response, Republican legislators appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court. And on Thursday, they requested that the high court expedite its review. Judge Price is due to deliver his final ruling on the case next Friday, March 15.

The bill's passage last week was marked by emotional and angry exchanges in the Legislature. This week, Democratic lawmakers showed their frustration, as Don Dailey, co-host of Alabama Public Television's Capitol Journal, tells WBHM's Andrew Yeager.

The Democrats did that by putting the brakes on the Legislature, Dailey says, "having bills read in their entirety and being a lot more deliberative and slow in the process — things that they say they were denied last Thursday, when the Alabama Accountability Act was quickly amended and passed."

The bill is also being reviewed by the Alabama Department of Education, which this week said it had found nine distinct areas of concern in the measure, from an inconsistent definition of a "failing school" to outdated testing criteria. Several of the agency's points revolve around money, from new transportation costs and federal funding issues to "a yet-to-be-determined negative impact" on the state's Education Trust Fund.

After the bill was substantially revised in committee, State Superintendent Thomas Bice withdrew his support for the measure.

Today, Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard acknowledged that the bill needs to be revised — but he also said he is worried about sending the education act is sent back to the Legislature.

"There are some things obviously that need to be changed," Hubbard tells AL.com. "We just have to make sure that if he does send it over here that the votes are here."

Bentley could make the revisions himself, in the form of executive amendments, AL.com reports, adding that the changes would still require lawmakers' approval.

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