Alabama Lawmakers Consider Creating ‘Ultimate’ Parenting Choice and College Savings Legislation

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Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, will introduce what he calls the “ultimate” school choice bill on Tuesday. The proposed bill would allow parents to access money the state would have used to pay for their child’s public education — about $6,300 last year — and direct it to other types of care. education, including private schools and home schooling options.

“There’s an overwhelming desire across this country and in Alabama from parents who want to make more decisions about their children’s education,” Marsh told AL.com on Monday. “This is the ultimate bill to do that. It allows a parent to choose public school, private school, homeschool, a combination of vocational school – it puts that power in the parents’ hands.

“COVID has brought to light many issues in education,” he continued. “In the times we live in, there are so many choices. And parents should have control over those choices.

Eight states currently have laws allowing college savings accounts – the mechanism by which money is accessed. According to EdChoice, which supports and tracks school choice programs nationwide, approximately 31,000 students use ESAs in all eight states combined. ESAs are sometimes referred to as school “neo-vouchers” (vouchers traditionally send money to schools, not individual families) and allow for a more direct transfer of public funds and enrollment than other choice policies. from school.

In previous years, Marsh sponsored legislation that created public charter schools and a Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which channels tax-deductible contributions through a third party, for income-eligible students. An expansion effort failed last session. This year, about 3,000 low-income students are using tax credit scholarships to attend private schools and public schools to which they are not zoned.

Alabama currently has eight public charter schools enrolling about 3,000 students this year.

READ MORE: VSHarter school enrollment rises in Alabama as experts debate impact

Marsh said he was confident Alabama could afford the program, pointing to $3 billion in federal funding and the largest amount ever given to the education trust fund.

Alabama spends more money on education than some of the surrounding states, he said. “But our students are the latest in math and reading.”

According to an analysis of education week that took into account differences in the cost of living, Alabama outspent Tennessee, Florida, Mississippi and North Carolina in the 2018-19 school year.

The latest spending numbers, from the 2019-20 school year, show Alabama spent $10,125 per student, which includes state, local and federal funding.

“It’s not just about the money,” he continued. “It’s about how you use your money. And I think it’s time for parents to make a decision in this choice.

Parents being able to direct dollars toward the education they choose for their children creates competition, Marsh said. “It makes public schools better.”

Under Marsh’s bill, the first ESAs would be available at the start of the 2022-23 school year. This would allow all students currently enrolled in public school or homeschooling to enroll in an ESA. Applications would be available on May 1 according to the bill.

The pool of eligible students expands in 2023-24 to include private school students whose family income does not exceed 200% of the federal poverty level.

All students become eligible in the 2024-25 school year.

Parents who wish their child to participate must sign an agreement with the Parents’ Choice Program Board pledging to use funds only for eligible expenses and to provide education for their child in reading, language , math, science and social studies.

Schools and other educational service providers who wish to receive ESA funds must agree to participate. This includes providing the number of places available and the student registration process. Students receiving tax credit scholarships are also eligible for AES, according to the bill.

Participating parents are also encouraged to provide enrichment opportunities for their child, including fine arts and sports. The Alabama High School Athletic Association retains control over student sports eligibility, according to the bill.

Failure to comply with program rules may result in the future disqualification of an educational service provider. A student’s ESA may be closed if parents do not follow the rules.

Although the state does not count the number of students in private schools and home schools, Marsh told Alabama Daily News that about 60,000 students attend private schools and another 10,000 students are enrolled in a home-schooling program.

About 725,000 students are enrolled in public schools this year.

Rep. Charlotte Meadows, R-Montgomery, carries an identical bill through the House. She, too, said now is the time for this type of school choice in Alabama. “We should have done something like this last year when the parents were so confused,” she said.

“They really had to do their own thing across the state in many school systems with their own kids, educate their own kids and they did it with their own money.”

Public school parents have expressed frustration with school options since the start of the pandemic, and for various and sometimes opposing reasons.

Some were upset because of the masking requirements imposed on students while others were upset because they wanted masking to be mandatory. Some parents wanted schools to be fully remote during delta and omicron variant surges while others wanted schools to remain fully open for in-person instruction even during surges.

“Parents were left out of the process,” she said, “and didn’t really have a choice when the schools said we were going virtual tomorrow.”

“We’re going to need parents to really think about what’s the best setting, option, class size. These types of things are different from school system to school system and school to school.

Meadows said she expects homeschooling parents to be among the first to sign up. “They never touched a penny. And honestly, I see no reason for them not to just sign up, take their cut of the state money, and continue homeschooling their kids with it.

Marsh is confident he has support for the bill and expects the Senate Education Policy Committee to approve it on Wednesday. “I would ask any legislator: do you think a parent should have a choice in their child’s education? As a legislator, I would be very hesitant to say no.

“This bill really gives parents control, and that’s what they want.

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