BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Former Gov. Bob Riley said he's serving as the unpaid chairman of a scholarship organization because he believes in a new Alabama law that provides help to families that move their children from failing public schools.
Riley started the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund with Tampa businessman John Kirtley, who began a similar program called Step Up for Students in Florida.
The new Alabama Accountability Act provides for individuals and businesses to donate to scholarship funds to help families make the transfer to participating private schools or non-failing public schools. Individuals can receive a state tax credit for their donations up to 50 percent of their tax owed, or a maximum of $7,500. Corporations can receive a tax credit equal to their donations up to 50 percent of their tax owed. Families with income up to 150 percent of the state median are eligible for the scholarships.
Riley wrote a newspaper op-ed article (http://bit.ly/1chaGQI) saying the program has worked well in Florida, and Alabama families deserve the same opportunity.
"That is why I have volunteered, at no pay, to be chairman of the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund," he said.
Riley said state law requires the scholarship fund to distribute 95 percent of what it raises as scholarships to low-income families.
"The purpose of the law is to empower parents, not fund schools," the former Republican governor said.
Riley's group is one of nine organizations approved by the state to raise scholarship money.
The Republican majority in the Alabama Legislature passed the Alabama Accountability Act in February over objections from Democrats. The transfer provision took effect with school's fall term.
Alabama has 78 public schools listed as failing. State education officials said 52 students used the new law to transfer from those schools to private schools for the fall term.
The law provides a tax credit of about $3,500 for a family that moves a child under the law. The scholarships are aimed at lower-income families that can't take advantage of the tax credits.
Donations so far indicate the law will get much more use in the future. Through November, nearly 600 Alabama business and individuals had contributed $19.5 million to scholarship organizations.