The Alabama Policy Institute (API) released its 2023-2024 Educational Freedom in Alabama report Tuesday to support universal school choice.

The report broke down the components of a quality school choice program, which included allowing K-12 families to use tax money to go toward the education program of their choice. It showed the benefits of putting families first instead of allowing the government and failed education bureaucracy to control all education dollars.

By studying several years of funding in Alabama's educational system, the report showed that giving more money to public schools may not be the way to improvement.

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"Though the state portion of K-12 funding has increased by almost 15% in the past five years, increases in funding haven't increased test scores," the report states. "According to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessment, Alabama's fourth- and eighth graders are below the national average in both reading and math. In fact, NAEP eighth-grade math scores are the exact same as they were in 2000, 22 years ago, and eighth-grade reading NAEP scores are four points lower than they were in 1998, 24 years ago."

While Gov. Kay Ivey has vowed to ensure Alabama has the highest teacher salary in the southeast, the API report suggested increasing teacher salaries may not be the answer. It urged lawmakers to take a closer look.

"Since the 1999-2000 school year, Alabama's minimum teacher salaries have increased by 45% on a nominal basis," the report pointed out. "Since 2018, the Legislature has approved four pay-raises for public education employees, totaling 12.5%. In 2022, on top of a 4% across the board raise, more experienced teachers saw larger increases through changes to the state's salary matrix."

"For example, a teacher with a bachelor's degree and 35 years of experience received a 20.8% raise in 2023," the report continued. "Despite these consistent raises, over the past 25 years, Alabama's performance in the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) has shown little to no improvement. In 2022, NAEP eighth-grade math scores were the same as they were in 2000, 23 years ago. Eighth grade reading NAEP scores were four points lower than in 1998, 25 years ago."

It added, "Out of 500 possible points, Alabama's average eighth-grade math score in 2022 was 264, the same as in 2000 and a five-point decrease from 269 in 2019. The state's average eighth grade reading scores in 2022 were 251, two points less than 253 in 2019 and four points less than Alabama's average score of 255 in 1998. Despite 12.5% raises since 2018, Alabama's NAEP scores only improved by one point in one category from 2019-2022."

While Alabama has some programs to allow some students to take advantage of better educational opportunities, API's report supports universal school choice to let parents put their children in any public school, private school, charter school, or adopt homeschool, tutoring or any learning option the family sees fit.

"Unlike the limited programs that Alabama has employed in the past, universal school choice would create volunteer education savings accounts (ESAs) that would allow all parents and every student in the state the options they need to be successful," the report stated. "With universal school choice, parents would have the option to send their children to public schools, charter schools, private schools, take online learning classes, or homeschool."

The report looks at historical data of other states that have elected for school choice and its impact on their educational system. By allowing for competition within schools, test scores and opportunities for students increased, even in rural areas.

While some say the cost of school choice is a barrier to implementing it, others believe the real roadblock has everything to do with special interest. After following the money, the road led API to the Alabama Education Association (AEA) and its political contributions to Republicans.

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"Over the political life of the current members of the Alabama House of Representatives, AEA has given to 81 of the 105 members to the tune of $2,356,000," the study found. "That means only 24 members of the Alabama House of Representatives have rejected the money of the teacher's union. In addition, only nine State Senators have refused direct contributions from AEA; the total amount contributed to current Alabama Senators since they have run for or been elected to the state senate is $1,270,000."

The API report also listed the aspects needed to complete a successful universal school choice program.

The comprehensive report on school choice and the breakdown of the costs of enacting universal school choice can be read here.

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