“In my opinion,” said Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston. “This has been the most successful session of the quadrennium because a lot of things we talked about the first year, the efficiencies, the streamlining of the agencies, all that's taken place this year. So it took us two years, literally, to get in position to pass this legislation to get it ready through the studies.”
Marsh, the president pro tempore of the Senate, was the force behind the Alabama Accountability Act, a school tax-credit bill, that generated a lawsuit and hours of Senate debate after it was passed in February. The bill will allow parents to get a tax credit of about $3,500 per year to take their children to a new school if they're zoned for a failing school. Critics panned the bill for not including a clear definition of “failing” schools, draining the state’s education budget and potentially giving tax credits to wealthy families already using private schools.
A set of revisions to the bill, also sponsored by Marsh, were passed earlier this month to address some of those concerns, though they now are at the center of a tug-of-war with Gov. Robert Bentley.
Marsh sees the act as something that will genuinely bring accountability to public schools.
“Even if their own schools are not failing systems, they understand that if they become a failing system, there's a price to pay,” Marsh said. “They will do all they can to keep themselves out of that failing status. That's a positive for everybody. The other thing, it finally, finally gives school choice to these parents and students who are trapped in these failing systems who do not have the financial means to go to a private school.”
Some of Marsh’s constituents are taking a wait-and-see attitude on the act and its effect on schools.
“Something needs to happen,” said Randy Turner of Oxford. “But I don’t know what exactly.” Turner has a stepdaughter attending school in Oxford.
“I don’t think you’ll have enough that are going to pull their kids out of school to make a difference,” Turner said.
Marsh is still a bit surprised to find himself working in the Senate — an organization he once compared to a business with 35 CEOs. With a business background, Marsh said he entered the legislative world because he felt small businesses were not being represented.
“I was content being in the business world,” Marsh said. “That's what I like.”
Marsh said he still focuses on small business in Alabama.
“That's what I'm always very conscious of when I look at legislation,” he said. “How it affects small business. I think that's the cornerstone of all of the tax base. I had no involvement in politics until '98 when I made that decision to get involved.”