MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Senate passed an expansion of the Alabama Accountability Act tax credit program late Tuesday night after over five hours of filibusters from Democrats and Republicans. 

The Alabama Accountability Act is an educational tax credit program that provides scholarships for students attending failing schools to transfer to non-failing public or private schools. The program was established in 2013.

"It does help some children. It doesn't help them all. We are helping some very poor children," State Sen. Dan Roberts (R-Mountain Brook) said. "These children would otherwise be in schools assigned by their zip code (and) are getting an opportunity to go to some of these schools."

The bill also would change the terms failing school and non-failing school to priority school and qualifying school, respectively. 

The legislation was filibustered by Democrats and Republicans for hours until the Senate passed a cloture motion ending debate before 9 p.m. State Sens. Chris Elliott (R-Josephine), Garlan Gudger (R-Cullman), and State Sen. Larry Stutts (R-Tuscumbia) voted against cloture, or ending debate.

Ultimately, the bill by State Sen. Donnie Chesteen (R-Geneva) passed 26-7, with all Republicans voting in favor. Multiple Democrats spoke against the legislation saying it would weaken Alabama's public school system.

A separate school choice bill, the PRICE Act sponsored by Stutts, wasn't on the Senate calendar on Tuesday.

Stutts said on the Senate floor the Alabama Accountability Act expansion legislation was "limited in scope and it's limited in the impact that we're going to have." 

"We have to do something, I think, that changes the paradigm that really moves the needle in education performance," Stutts said. "I applaud what you're doing. I'm not against charter schools. I'm not against the Accountability Act. I'm against passing any one of those as a standalone bill. When we look at the possibility of passing this bill now. It going to the House tomorrow, and then the PRICE Act is not on the calendar right now for tomorrow."

"Tomorrow is kind of the drop dead day to get it passed out of the Senate and still have a chance of passing it in the House," he added. "The reason I'm standing here is to say we're not going to pass school choice-lite and say, 'Well, we've addressed that issue. We're not going to address that issue for the next several years.' I don't think that this is enough to really, really make a difference for the children in whatever education system they're in across the state."

Chesteen said, "I think that we'll continue to have discussions and would hope that we can get your bill to a place where it would do what you want it to do."

"I'm not working your bill. I'm just telling you about the bill that I've worked on," he continued. "I know you've worked just as hard on your bill to try to get it to the floor. We are here with this bill right now, and again, this is not the only school choice bill that I think we'll be dealing with in this quadrennium." 

Stutts told 1819 News on Tuesday night there's a "glimmer of hope" that the PRICE Act would be on the Senate calendar on Wednesday, but it would "have to pass tomorrow for any hope to pass the House this session."

"I know the two groups that fought my bill tooth and nail," Stutts said on the Senate floor on Tuesday. "I think they'll be right back to the table saying, 'Well, we got to give the expansion of the Accountability Act two, three, five years to see what that does to see what difference that makes.' I'm concerned about giving up any ground on school choice without saying we've got a comprehensive package of school choice and it has to have parent involvement. It has to be universally available."

"It has to have all these other characteristics that are really going to make a difference for a significant number of children in the state," he continued. "My concern, again repeating myself, the reason I'm standing here is that if we pass this bill it will be viewed as we've already addressed that issue, we're not going to come back to that next year or the next and then the next year is an election year and we can't bring up something that controversial in an election year. You know how the system works." 

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