Lawmakers Approve Expansion of Private School Scholarship Program

. The Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Program provides state-funded scholarships to low- and moderate-income students to attend participating private schools.

MONTGOMERY (Ala.) (AP)... -- Alabama lawmakers approved a Wednesday expansion of a program that helps low- and medium-income students go to private schools.

The House of Representatives approved the bill 75-22, which would increase income eligibility as well as make other changes in order to increase the number of participants. Now, the measure goes to Governor. Kay Ivey.

The bill was introduced as Republicans in the United States have been promoting various forms of'school-choice' legislation. These range from vouchers and scholarship programs to public funding for private schools or alternative school options.

Terri Collins of Decatur, a Republican Representative, stated during the debate that more children would have access to this legislation.

Donnie Chesteen of the Republican Senate, who sponsored the bill, estimated that with the new changes, the number students participating in this program could go from 3,000 to 4400.

The Alabama Accountability Act is a program that provides tax credits to those who donate money to the organizations providing scholarships. Priority is given to those students who are zoned to attend a school labeled 'failing,' because their test scores fall in the bottom 6%. Tax credits are also given to families who want to transfer from schools labeled as "failing."

The new legislation approved raises the income limit for new scholarships, from $55,500 per family of four up to $75,000 The law expands the eligibility of students who have Individualized Education Programs due to a learning disability or another condition.

The bill increases the maximum scholarship per student to $10,000. The bill would also increase the money available for the program, by increasing the annual tax credit cap from $30 million to 40 million and then up to 60 million dollars.

The label "failing" school would be replaced with "priority" schools. The label would be based solely on the state report card grades, not just on test scores.

The Alabama Accountability Act was created by Republicans in 2013. They pushed the bill through via a conference committee on a chaotic night of legislative activity.

Laura Hall of Huntsville said, "I have always had a bad feeling about this bill."