A bill to provide Alabama state funding for an individual family’s public, private, or home school choice option has been advanced by the Senate Policy Committee. education wednesday on a recorded voice vote as five yeses, three noes and two abstentions.
The law would create education savings accounts, or ESA, which would give parents access to 100% of the state’s share of a public school student’s education. ESAs could be used for alternative education, including private school or homeschooling.
Read more: Marsh to file ‘ultimate’ parental choice and education savings legislation.
Marsh said he introduced the bill because Alabama’s education system ranked so poorly on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also called the National Report Card, compared to other states. and that he was concerned about the future of the state. “I can’t sit and do nothing,” he said.
“If we’re not seen by those outside the state of Alabama that we’re trying to fix this,” he asked, “and Alabama assumes 50th is good enough, what do we do? us for our children?”
Several education officials spoke out against the bill during the public hearing, sharing concerns over initial estimates of $420 million in the cost of funding ESAs at $5,500 each for about 70,000 private students. and at home.
A tax note attached to the invoice but not available online before the committee meeting, the cost is $537 million, funding 96,000 students at $5,561 each.
Alabama Education Association deputy director Ashley McLain said the level of funding is not sustainable.
“At the joint budget hearings, the budget chairs and the state’s chief financial officer talked about the importance of being prudent in your budgeting,” McLain said, “because this unprecedented growth that we’ve seen is not sustainable and will not continue.”
Some have said the bill won’t have the impact on achievement that Marsh is seeking.
“I don’t see anything in the bill that would fix Alabama’s performance overnight,” said Alabama school executive director Ryan Hollingsworth. “As you know, homeschooled children and private schools do not participate in NAEP.”
Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, opposed the bill, saying Alabama schools can be improved without creating ASEs. “I just don’t know why we won’t use our resources and our political will to hold accountable those in charge of the public school system and Alabama,” she said.
Sen. Kirk Hatcher, D-Montgomery, also opposed the bill. “The way I see this bill is if you’re looking to dismantle education, public education, then do it,” he said. “Don’t do it with this idea of helping people when in fact it will absolutely decapitate public education.”
Alabama Superintendent Eric Mackey told reporters his biggest concern was the lack of accountability of private schools and homeschooled students. “If people are going to be able to use state money for homeschooling,” he said, “we have to completely rewrite our homeschooling regulations. At this point, we don’t even have a list of these homeschoolers.
The same goes for private schools. “They should have to meet certain minimum standards,” Mackey said. For example, private schools should have background checks on all employees and be accredited, he added.
Originally, the bill did not require students using ESAs to take tests, but Marsh has now added an amendment to the bill this would require students using ESAs to take the state’s standardized test each year.
Baldwin County School Board President Shannon Cauley called it “a social program for wealthy families.”
“Students who have never attended public school,” Cauley said, “will now receive a check to cover their tuition and any other non-academic expenses like violin lessons, dance lessons, cheering uniforms or other sports equipment”.
Alabama public education officials who spoke with AL.com before the committee meeting also opposed the bill.
Alabama Board of Education member Wayne Reynolds didn’t mince words about the bill: [statewide] vote that he got the bill to dissolve the council of state.
“He is an avowed enemy of the State Board of Education and the State Department of Education.”
Marsh, who was first elected to the state Senate in 1998, is not seeking re-election this year.
The vote Reynolds was referring to was a 2019 Marsh-sponsored constitutional amendment that called on Alabamians to vote to disband the elected state board of education in favor of an elected board appointed by elected officials. This measure was soundly rejected in March 2020 by a margin of 3 to 1.
“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 hands of parents.
“COVID has brought to light many issues in education,” Marsh continued. “In the times we live in, there are so many choices. And parents should have control over those choices.
ESAs are similar to vouchers, allowing families to access funds directly, but differ from vouchers in that ESAs can be used to pay more than tuition.
Alabama Association of School Boards executive director Sally Smith said the bill does nothing to improve public education. “If improving education is the goal,” Smith said, “we will spend the first $420 million when the bill is implemented to reinforce the status quo.”
“It’s not going to change student outcomes in Alabama State one iota,” Smith added.
“Parental choice is a wonderful thing and parents have it right now,” Smith said. “If you’re asking the public and taxpayers to subsidize your choice, then the public and taxpayers should have appropriate accountability and there’s very, very little accountability in this bill.”
Rather than spending time on a bill that diverts money from public schools, Smith said, “We believe the focus should be on efforts that would improve our public schools in which the public has already invested. are considerable.”
” Not only [the bill] have no value, I see it harming public education in Alabama,” Reynolds said. “The answer to Marsh’s problems is to involve parents. If you want parents to have a choice, make parents choose to be involved.
Eight states currently have laws allowing college savings accounts – the mechanism by which money is accessed. According to EdChoicewhich supports and tracks school choice programs nationwide, approximately 31,000 students use ESAs in all eight states combined.