Former governor leads Ala. scholarship group

Former governor leads Ala. scholarship group

- In this Feb. 5, 2013, file photo, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley delivers his State-of-the-State address to a combined session of the Alabama Legislature in the historic House chamber of the Capitol in Montgomery, Ala. Bentley signed a GOP-backed bill that provides tax credits of about $3,500 per year for families that move their children from failing public schools to participating private schools. Lawsuits were filed to block the law, which was passed through legislative sleight of hand despite opponents including Alabama’s state school superintendent. (AP Photo/Dave Martin, File)

Published: Monday, December 30, 2013 at 05:24 PM.

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 ( 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.

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