Several lawmakers and politicians in Alabama continue to push education as a priority in next year's legislative session.
In recent months, Gov. Kay Ivey, Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth, House Speaker-designate Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) and newly-elected House District 7 State Rep. Ernie Yarbrough (R-Trinity) have all said education will be at the top of the list next session.
Will school choice be a part of that?
State Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur), who chairs the House Education Policy Committee, said a full school choice option would not be off the table. With the influx of newly-elected freshmen legislators who made school choice a campaign priority, Collins believes the details will need to be worked out.
"We have so many new people, and a lot of them ran on school choice, so we're just going to have to get them in Montgomery to see what they're actually willing to do," Collins said. "But we have some [school choice]. There was a school choice bill last session … that would give all students a choice in their education. As we look at a funding formula and go to maybe more of a per-pupil instead of per-teacher ratio, that might help us be able to do that as well if we actually have an appetite in the legislature to pass that."
Collins applauded the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA), which she described as a "form" of school choice. The AAA established a scholarship program for low-income students to attend public or private schools. The scholarships are funded by tax-deductible donations. Students who are zoned within the district of a failing school are given priority in receiving AAA dollars.
"In 2015, we passed an increase, where if you want to donate to the scholarship funds that give students that don't have choice for their education, those scholarships are already available to them," Collins said. "And before, you could only give 50% of your taxable income, and last year, we gave up to 100%. So, hopefully, some of those scholarships will grow, and that is a form of choice. Especially for families that can't afford to do that."
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