‘School choice’ also means ‘tax choice’ in Alabama

It’s back-to-school season and for some parents, this is a happy time.

But for those whose children are stuck in underperforming schools, or schools where they are bullied or are in danger, this is a heartbreaking time, especially if they cannot afford to move or go to private school.

“There was fighting every day. People wanted to shoot me, kill me, and everything,” said Calvin Coleman in a speech about his experiences at his Mobile public high school.

Did you know that you, or your company, can help students like Calvin by donating a portion of what you already owe in state income taxes to a program that funds scholarships for low-income families in Alabama?

“When my son Carlos was in the fifth grade, he was constantly bullied and I wanted to desperately put him into a private school,” wrote Nyenya Webster of Montgomery in Alabama Daily News. Every day was a struggle, she added. “I was at a loss as to what to do to help my son.”

Then Webster learned about the tax-credit scholarship program created in 2013 by the Alabama Accountability Act that serves roughly 4,000 low-income, mostly minority Alabama students.

She applied, and Carlos received a scholarship to attend Success Unlimited Academy in Montgomery.

“Success Unlimited has been a lifesaver for my son,” Webster wrote. “He … is now considering college. My son never talked about going to college before Success.”

For those who want to help other Alabama families break the cycle of poverty through education, it’s a no-brainer.

“For a donor, it doesn’t cost them anything,” said Warren Callaway, executive director of Scholarships For Kids, one of the scholarship granting organizations funded by the program.

That’s because a tax credit is different from a charitable contribution. When you make a charitable contribution to a non-profit organization, you deduct a portion of that on your income tax. However, a tax credit allows you to take a dollar for dollar reduction in your state income tax.

“Basically, donors are redirecting some of their state income tax liability to a [scholarship granting organization],” Callaway said. “So, if you give $100 to us, you can reduce your state income tax by $100.”

Who benefits from the donation?

“The average household income for these students is under $30,000 so these are families that would have no other way of choosing the school that is best for their child,” said Ryan Cantrell, director of state strategy and political affairs for the American Federation for Children, during an interview of the 1819 podcast.

Higher-income families have always had school choice, Cantrell said, but “it’s the low-income families who get stuck with no options in under-performing schools or schools that don’t work for their child.”

There are $30 million in tax credits available and, so far, only about a third have been claimed, according to the Department of Revenue’s My Alabama Taxes website.

Here’s how you can reserve your tax credit before the December 31, 2019, deadline:

Step 1: Estimate how much income tax you or your business will owe Alabama next year by checking how much you paid last year. Individuals and corporations can donate up to 50 percent of their tax bill, and while individuals are limited to $50,000, corporations are unlimited.

Step 2: Visit the My Alabama Taxes website and follow instructions for reserving an Alabama Accountability Act tax credit.

Step 3: Send a check to one of the seven scholarship granting organizations in Alabama within 30 days.

Step 4: When you do your taxes next year, fill out an Alabama Department of Revenue Schedule AATC form to reduce your income tax bill by the amount you donated.

For more help, individuals may call the Alabama Department of Revenue at 334-353-0602 or 334-353-9770, and corporations may call 334-242-1200.

You’re already going to have to write a check for your state income taxes. Why not control where some of that money goes, especially when it has the power to change lives?

“It was a relief that nobody would understand,” said mother-of-five Alleane West in an Alabama Opportunity Scholarship video about the program’s impact on her family. “You know, you’re a single mom with boys trying to not make them a statistic.”

Watch:

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is a senior fellow at the Alabama Policy Institute. Connect with her at rachel@alabamapolicy.org or on Instagram @RachelBlackmonBryars.

12 hours ago

Tomorrow is officially Small Business Saturday in Alabama

Governor Kay Ivey (R-AL) has formally proclaimed November 28, 2020, to be Small Business Saturday.

The proclamation issued by Ivey stressed that “the state of Alabama believes that small businesses are the backbone of our economy and the glue that holds communities together.”

Ivey subsequently recognized that small businesses comprise 99.4% of businesses in the Yellowhammer State, employing 48.1% of the private workforce.

“Alabama supports our local small businesses that create jobs, boost our local economy and preserve our neighborhoods,” the governor wrote.

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The proclamation concluded by asking residents to support small businesses this Saturday, as well as throughout the year. Small businesses have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

RELATED: Why Small Business Saturday really matters in 2020

This year’s Small Business Saturday comes amid the Keep Alabama Open campaign.

Ivey recently pledged, “I will not shut down businesses; the business community certainly has my support. As I’ve said many times, you cannot have a life without a livelihood.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

13 hours ago

Alabama, Auburn students participate in third annual Operation Iron Ruck to support veterans

Not even the COVID-19 pandemic could stop members of the University of Alabama Campus Veterans Association and Auburn University Student Veterans Association from holding the third annual Operation Iron Ruck, an initiative to bring awareness to the rash of veteran suicides in America.

Beginning Wednesday and culminating ahead of Saturday’s Iron Bowl, participants from the two schools are marching with each other from Auburn to Tuscaloosa’s Bryant-Denny Stadium, where this year’s game will be played.

During the trip, each student veteran will hike approximately 50 miles total. The participants walk for 2 ½ hours consecutively before climbing into a support vehicle for about five hours of rest before their next hike. The trip is about 151 miles long and takes approximately three days to complete.

Operation Iron Ruck supports Mission 22, a veteran suicide campaign recognizing that 22 veterans die by suicide daily across the nation.

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To bring attention to this statistic, student veterans from UA and Auburn this year are each carrying 22 pounds of materials in their rucksacks to be donated to Three Hots and a Cot, a Birmingham-based nonprofit organization that assists homeless military veterans transition from life on the streets into a self-sustained lifestyle.

“Veteran suicide is a serious issue in the veteran community,” commented Ben Shewmake, president of the UA Campus Veterans Association. “The loss of camaraderie, along with service-related problems leave some believing their only way to fix their issues is to end their life. This can be attributed to some people not transitioning back into society, sexual assault issues, family problems and military-related illnesses.”

“The awareness is not to say, ‘hey this is happening,’ but more to tell the ones who are thinking about it that there are people who care and are here if they reach out,” Shewmake added. “There is also a newer message that is popping up that is to tell everyone to keep in touch with their former colleagues and that one random text or call to someone may keep them from committing suicide and no one will probably ever know that. It’s as much to tell those who may be struggling that people care as it is to tell the people who care to reach out rather than wait on being reached out to.”

This initiative has attracted widespread support, including when Governor Kay Ivey last year offered her backing of the program and even formally declared Operation Iron Ruck Day in the state of Alabama.

“Since our country’s inception, our military members have shown their patriotism, their bravery, and ultimately, their willingness to lay their lives on the line for the sake of protecting our freedoms. That sacrifice does not end in combat, because even when our men and women return safely home, many continue to struggle with the impacts of war,” Ivey said in 2019.

“Sadly, in our country, suicide claims the lives of around 22 veterans each day. I urge Alabamians and people all across our country to continue fighting for those who fight for us. I am proud to see this committed group of students from Alabama and Auburn come together to bring awareness to this issue facing veterans in our country,” the governor concluded.

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or have concerns about someone else who potentially is doing so, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You will be routed to a local crisis center where professionals can talk you through a risk assessment and provide resources in your community.

Additionally, veterans and service members, as well as their loved ones, can call the Veterans Crisis Line and Military Crisis Line to connect with qualified, caring U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs responders through a confidential toll-free hotline (1-800-273-8255, Press 1).

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

14 hours ago

Alabama’s game against LSU rescheduled for Saturday, December 5

The University of Alabama Crimson Tide’s game against LSU, which was originally scheduled for November 14, will reportedly be rescheduled to Saturday, December 5.

The game was postponed earlier this month because of positive COVID-19 test results and subsequent contact tracing within the LSU football program.

It had since become doubtful that the game would be rescheduled, as LSU already has a make-up game against Florida scheduled for December 12, the designated weekend set aside by the SEC for games postponed due to coronavirus protocols.

Yahoo Sport’s Pete Thamel on Friday was the first to report that the SEC plans to readjust the remaining regular season schedule to allow Alabama to play LSU — the defending national champions — this season.

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It is expected now that Alabama will travel to play LSU in Baton Rouge next weekend.

Alabama’s game at Arkansas, originally scheduled for December 5, will thus be pushed back to December 12.

The SEC Championship Game will be December 19.

It has been reported that this planned schedule adjustment by the SEC is contingent on this weekend’s relevant games not being postponed.

The Tide face Auburn in the Iron Bowl at 2:30 p.m. this Saturday. Head coach Nick Saban will not be on the sideline due to a positive COVID-19 test result on Wednesday.

UPDATE 2:50 p.m.

The SEC confirmed the schedule change.

Alabama at LSU will now be played December 5 at 7:00 p.m., and CBS will broadcast the game.

“The cooperation and flexibility of our coaches, athletics directors and campus leaders along with the dedication of our student-athletes now provides the opportunity to reach this point in the season with the ability for each SEC team to play ten football games in 2020,” stated SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey. “We knew before the season there would be interruptions and scheduling challenges related to COVID-19 and we will continue to manage the remaining weeks of the football schedule to allow for as many games to be played as possible, with a continuing focus on determining an SEC champion.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

16 hours ago

Lockheed Martin completes acquisition of Huntsville company’s hypersonics portfolio, boosting Alabama-based national security work

Lockheed Martin this week announced it has closed on the acquisition of Huntsville-based Integration Innovation Inc.’s (i3) hypersonics portfolio.

Terms of acquiring this portion of the Rocket City software and systems engineering company were not disclosed.

A release advised that the acquisition expands Lockheed’s capabilities to design, develop and produce integrated hypersonic weapon systems for its customers.

Lockheed’s hypersonics program is based in Courtland, Alabama, which is less than an hour away from Huntsville.

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“Our customers require the most forward-thinking, advanced technology that anticipates and addresses their national security requirements. This business combination not only reinforces our commitment to their missions, but also expands our portfolio in a strategic way,” stated Eric Scherff, vice president of Hypersonic Strike Programs at Lockheed. “Combining i3’s talent and domain expertise with our shared vision for hypersonic strike will expand how we think about and deliver this critical capability to the warfighter across domains.”

Mike Wicks, the former CEO of i3, has been named vice president of the Hypersonic Engineering & Accelerated Technologies program within the Hypersonic Strike Portfolio for Lockheed Martin Space.

“We’re proud to be a part of the Lockheed Martin family, as they are a technology authority and employ some of the best and brightest in the industry,” said Wicks. “We have invested much time and energy into developing strategic solutions at i3. And, we’re finding the need to synergize these offerings with Lockheed Martin is more timely than ever and unlocks the value to our joint customers.”

The U.S. Army last year awarded Lockheed a $347 million contract to serve as its Long Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW) prototype system integrator.

In addition to much of this work being conducted in Lawrence County, Lockheed chose Huntsville-based Dynetics (now a Leidos company) to work on this project, developing launchers with hydraulics, outriggers, power generation and distribution for the ground platform. Dynetics will further provide flight test and training support. Moreover, i3 was named as a part of that Lockheed-led LRHW team.

Separately, Dynetics Technical Solutions last year was also awarded an Army contract in the amount of $351.6 million to produce Common-Hypersonic Glide Body (C-HGB) prototypes in Huntsville. In turn, Dynetics selected Lockheed as a subcontractor on this project.

Both contracts are part of the Army’s work to advance the fielding of a prototype hypersonic weapon by Fiscal Year 2023 and transition the development of Army hypersonic capabilities out of government laboratories and into commercial production.

Beyond North Alabama’s private sector expertise in hypersonics, this collaboration is administered by the Army Hypersonic Project Office, part of the Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO), which is headquartered at Huntsville’s Redstone Arsenal.

The C-HGB is intended for use by not just the Army but also the Navy and the Missile Defense Agency, which is anchored in Huntsville.

Hypersonic Strike capabilities have been identified by the federal government as a critical capability that must be addressed in support of the U.S. National Security Strategy. Hypersonic weapons are unique in that they are capable of flying at five times the speed of sound and operate at varying altitudes.

U.S. Senator Richard C. Shelby (R-AL) has been a key supporter of hypersonics programs, including in his roles as chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations and its Subcommittee on Defense.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

17 hours ago

Birmingham’s Regions Center once again lighting up ahead of Christmas

Regions Bank’s iconic headquarters tower in Birmingham will once again be transformed into a beautiful holiday lights display starting on Friday.

This is an annual Magic City hallmark going back to the late 1970s.

Each year, red, green and white lights installed above the windows surrounding the 30-story tower are illuminated in the forms of Christmas trees, a massive wreath and a giant stocking.

The lights come on just before sunset each evening beginning the day after Thanksgiving, and the nightly display continues until January 1.

“The lighting of the Regions Center is a tradition going back more than 40 years, and Regions Bank is proud to keep the tradition alive, especially during a year in which so much has changed,” stated Joe Holcombe, senior facilities project manager in Regions’ Corporate Real Estate division.

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“In recent weeks, crews have been installing and testing lights, working hard to get Birmingham’s tallest holiday display ready for the season,” he continued. “As the lights come on this evening, we wish everyone a happy holiday season and a brighter new year to come.”

The Regions Center tower rises nearly 400 feet over 5th Avenue North at 20th Street North in downtown Birmingham.

While some of the best views are from Railroad Park or from Vulcan Park on Red Mountain, the customary lights are visible across the city, including to travelers on nearby Interstate highways and planes landing at the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport.

Emilio Cerice, senior vice president of Corporate Real Estate for Regions Bank, said in a statement last year, “It’s something we look forward to every year – and it’s something the city looks forward to. In recent years, it’s been fun to watch social media and see people sharing creative photos of the building or sharing their memories of coming downtown to see the lights.”

In addition to this annual seasonal display, the Regions Center has also been illuminated to celebrate the Regions Tradition golf tournament, as well as the 1996 Summer Olympics (when Birmingham hosted Olympic soccer games) and in a patriotic display to support American troops during the Gulf War in 1991.

“Birmingham is our headquarters city. We’re proud to occupy a prominent spot in the city’s skyline,” Cerice added. “And we’re proud to carry on this tradition.”

You can read more about the history of the tradition and the process of displaying the lights here.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn