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C.M., et al., v. Robert J. Bentley, M.D.; et al.

An Alabama law gave tax breaks to families transferring their children to successful schools, discriminating against impoverished students in the state’s Black Belt region who were trapped in failing schools. 

The Alabama Accountability Act was passed by state officials promising it would benefit students regardless of their family income or where they lived. The reality was that thousands of children in Alabama’s Black Belt, most of them African Americans below the poverty line, were left trapped in failing schools, unable to take advantage of the Act. 

The failing Black Belt schools also were in danger of deteriorating further as money meant for public education would be funneled into tax breaks for families with access to successful public and private schools.

The SPLC asked the court to permanently block the Act, which provided a $3,500 tax credit to help offset the cost of tuition and fees charged by schools that accept students who transfer. The suit says that the law violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause because it impermissibly creates two classes of students assigned to failing schools – those who can escape them because of their parents’ income or where they live and those who cannot.

The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama on behalf of eight students attending failing schools in Wilcox, Russell, Barbour and Marengo counties.

Students in the 78 schools declared “failing” by the state were overwhelmingly poor, and nearly 40 percent of those schools were located within the Black Belt. Nine in 10 students in failing schools received free or reduced lunch, making it difficult for their families to send them to successful private schools.