(Brent Addleman | The Center Square) – A bill circulating the Alabama Senate would establish a school choice program in the state.
Senate Bill 140, sponsored by state Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, would create the Parent’s Choice Act for students in public and private K-12 schools to give students a greater chance at success who are attending schools that are not meeting their educational needs.
The bill, if enacted, would feature an oversight board and establish funding and participation mechanisms, while establishing how the funds can be used. The bill advanced from the Senate Education Policy Committee on Feb. 9
The Alabama Policy Institute has backed passage of the bill.
“For over eighteen months now, we’ve watched as states around the country have increased school choice for their residents,” API President & CEO Caleb Crosby said in a news release. “Alabama now has the opportunity to join them and provide hope for thousands of children stuck in failing schools or schools that do not meet their individual needs.”
For the 2022-23 school year, under the bill, only students enrolled in and attending public schools, or being homeschooled, or entering kindergarten would be eligible to participate. For the 2023-24 school year, students already enrolled or any student attending a private school could enroll as long as the family has an adjusted gross income up to 200% of the federal poverty level. The following school year, the program would be open to any student, regardless of income.
The bill would identify which expenses qualify, such as ongoing services provided by a public school, which would not be limited to individual classes and extracurricular activities and programs. Expenses such as tuition or fees at schools, tutoring services, and fees and assessments for standardized tests would be included.
The bill would also establish renewal and administration of the education savings accounts, while also providing for auditing of the funds established in the Parent’s Choice Program Trust Fund, which would be appropriated by the Legislature. Expenses for running the program, under the bill, are not to exceed 5% of the fund’s balance.
According to the fiscal note attached to the bill, the state would invest $5,561 into an account for each participating student in the 2022-23 school year and the fund would receive an appropriation of $537 million annually.
The policy group is calling on the Legislature to approve educational expenses for private schools, online tuition, tutoring, and curriculum to provide better opportunities to all Alabama students and calls for the program to be open immediately to all students. The organization also is calling for the Legislature to not put excessive regulations on private schools.
In addition, the bill would establish that funds put into students’ accounts are not taxable income to parents/guardians.
The Parent’s Choice Board, which would be established under the bill, would consist of the state treasurer, the state’s Finance Director, a representative of the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy program, and four parent members who would be appointed by the governor.
The state’s treasurer would serve as the chairman of the board, and the vice-chair would be elected by the members of the board.