Alabama’s Education Scholarship Program was enacted and launched in 2013. The program, a tax-credit scholarship, allows taxpayers who donate to nonprofit scholarship granting organizations to receive tax credits for their contributions. Learn more about the program on this page, including eligibility, funding, regulations, legal history and more.
3,646 scholarships awarded (Fall 2016)
57 percent of families with children income-eligible statewide
4 scholarship organizations awarding scholarships (Fall 2016)
163 schools participating (2015–16)
Average scholarship value: $4,869 (2016–17 projected)
Value as a percentage of public school per-student spending: 54 percent
Alabama offers tax credits to donors supporting Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs), nonprofits that provide private school scholarships to students in need.
Scholarship amounts are determined by SGOs. Scholarships are capped at the lesser of the private school tuition and fees or $6,000 in grades K–5, $8,000 in grades 5–8, and $10,000 in grades 9–12.
Individuals and corporations can claim a 100 percent tax credit for contributions to approved SGOs. Individuals and corporations (including S corporations and LLCs) can claim tax credits up to 50 percent of their tax liability; however, individual tax credits cannot exceed $50,000 per taxpayer or married couple filing jointly. Taxpayers may carry forward a tax credit under this program for three years. The total amount of tax credits awarded statewide is limited to $30 million.
Children are eligible to receive scholarships if their family qualifies for the federal free and reduced-price lunch (FRL) program ($44,955 for a family of four in 2016–17). Also, qualifying students must (1) be younger than 19 years of age, (2) be public or private school students zoned to attend a public school designated as failing, or (3) have been a non-graduate scholarship recipient in the previous school year under this program from a family with an income less than 275 percent of the federal poverty level ($66,825 for a family of four in 2016–17). Alabama defines a public school as failing if it meets one or more of the following requirements: The school is designated as a failing school by the state Superintendent of Education or the school does not exclusively serve a special population of students and is listed in the lowest 6 percent of public K–12 schools on the state standardized assessment in reading and math. If an SGO has scholarship funds unaccounted for on July 31 of each year, scholarships may be made available to eligible students in public school, regardless of whether or not their assigned public school is considered failing.
Alabama’s tax-credit scholarship program was amended in 2015 to prohibit SGOs from accepting donations for a particular group of schools—for example, schools of a particular faith or particular learning style. This is an overtly restrictive setback for the program and should be repealed. The program has a low cap ($30 million) relative to similar tax-credit scholarship programs in other states. Allowing automatic increases in the cap each year would be an improvement. Also, although it is positive that the program opens opportunities for students in “non-failing” public schools after July 31 of each year, the bifurcated process for distributing scholarships is difficult to navigate for schools, SGOs and parents. The state should consider dropping the “failing” school provision altogether to bring clarity to the application process; currently only 76 out of over 1,600 public K–12 schools are designated as failing by the state. The state should also heed advice from its private school leaders and ease newly imposed regulatory burdens, while allowing private schools the freedom they need to serve children at the highest level.
Ala. Code §§ 40-2A-7(a)(5) and 16-6D
On March 2, 2015, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled, in an 8-1 decision, that the Alabama Accountability Act enacted in 2013, which includes Alabama’s refundable tax credit and tax credit scholarship program, is constitutional. The high court overturned a May 2014 lower court ruling by the Montgomery County Circuit court which initially struck down the Alabama Accountability Act. Boyd v. Magee. Also, in April 2014, a U.S. District Judge dismissed a separate lawsuit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center that challenged the Alabama Accountability Act on grounds the school choice program violated equal protection. C.M., et al., v. Robert J. Bentley, M.D.; et al.