- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 8, 2015

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh on Wednesday said some students getting private school scholarships under a state program could be in danger of losing them unless lawmakers make adjustments.

Marsh told a House budget committee Wednesday that litigation related to the Alabama Accountability Act made some donors reluctant to give money last year. That could put some students at risk of not getting their scholarships renewed, he said.

The Alabama Accountability Act provides income-tax credits - a dollar-for-dollar reduction on an income-tax bill - in exchange for donations to the scholarship-granting organizations. Children in public schools designated as failing have priority for the scholarships but other families can apply if they meet income restrictions.

There is a cumulative cap on the donations of $25 million each year.

Sonya DiCarlo, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund, said only about half of the 2014 allotment of tax credits available was reserved in 2014 because many donors, especially corporations, chose to wait until the Alabama Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of the program. Justices ruled the program legal but not until March.

DiCarlo said their organization has 2,800 scholarships to renew, which would require approximately $15 million alone.

A Senate-passed bill would raise the cumulative cap on the tax credits from $25 million to $30 million and allow some retroactive donations. Marsh said that would allow current students to continue to be served.

The House Ways and Means Education Committee held a public hearing but did not vote on the changes to the program that has sharply divided lawmakers.

The bill would also tighten income requirements for the scholarships to 185 percent of the federal poverty level. That equals $44,123 for a family of four.

The discussion came during what was a busy committee day in the Alabama Legislature.

Here’s a look at some of Wednesday’s other action:

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EDUCATION TRUST FUND: The Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee approved an Education Trust Fund budget that would hire about 70 more middle-school teachers across the state, but does not give teachers a raise.

The budget would also direct $13.5 million more to expand Alabama’s pre-kindergarten program. The spending plan now goes to the Senate floor for debate.

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STATE LIQUOR STORES: A Senate committee rejected the idea of privatizing state liquor stores operated by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. The Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund Committee voted down the bill on a 7-6 vote.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, has proposed the bill for several years, saying it would be a move to downsize government. The ABC Board opposed the closure of the stores.

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COMMON CORE: In what’s becoming a yearly event at the Alabama Statehouse, friends and foes of the Common Core curriculum standards squared off in a public hearing over a bill to repeal the standards. The bill has been introduced in previous sessions but has failed to win approval.

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