Welcome to the twisting paths of Alabama's CHOOSE Act, a law that is supposed to make choosing schools as easy as picking your favorite app on your phone. The Act just passed the Alabama House and is on to the State Senate, but diving into the details, we find ourselves in a labyrinth of rules, exceptions, and surprises that would puzzle even the most skilled maze runner.

The Homeschooling Riddle

First up is the homeschooling conundrum. There seem to be two groups at play in this, each reading the same bill and coming to different conclusions. On one side, you have HSLDA saying homeschoolers cannot join the CHOOSE Act party. On the other hand, important folks from Montgomery – like Nick Moore and State Rep. Danny Garrett (R-Trussville) – insist that homeschoolers are indeed invited, but they get a smaller slice of the funding cake.

The reason? It is feared that if homeschoolers get too much funding, everyone would want to start "freedom schooling." Too much freedom might lead us away from traditional schooling paths, people believe, so Montgomery gave just enough to homeschoolers to appear universal, but not enough to truly support the families.

Accreditation: The Invisible Badge

Now, on to the mystery of accreditation, an invisible badge schools wear to show they meet certain standards. But here is the twist: many successful people never had this badge. Millions of homeschoolers in every state with diplomas lacking this badge have gone on to do amazing things in college and beyond. So, if these students can thrive without it, why is accreditation so important? Why does the CHOOSE Act make such a sticky point out of only allowing accredited schools to receive the $7,000 level in funding?

The reason is that this is more about funding control than necessity. Perhaps we need to rethink accreditation, using it as a guiding light rather than a weapon to keep small businesses out of tax funding.

A Tale of Two Hotlines

The CHOOSE Act introduces a magic hotline to report on any school you think is not doing things right. If you wonder why there is not a similar hotline for public schools currently, you are not alone. There is a double standard at play, where private education is under more scrutiny than its public counterpart.

Hopefully, we will utilize this hotline to call on all school choices in the future if it stays in the bill. We would not want to turn in Karen next door for appearing to purchase Lego blocks with her funding, but not the administrator who did the exact same thing at her neighborhood public school.

The Geography of Choice

Journeying through the Act, we encounter a landscape where not all regions in Alabama are created equal. In areas like the Black Belt, current school choices are more scarce than in more affluent areas. Madison County, for example, has about 52 private schools, while most Black Belt counties have only a handful of private schools. This disparity highlights a significant challenge: How do we ensure every student, regardless of where they live, has access to choices? How will a brick-and-mortar private school choose to build in lower-income regions when they can build in Rocket City?

Microschools are one solution, as they are smaller, more innovative, and require less startup funding. An amazing micro school program called Engaged Detroit is underway in Detroit, Mich., offering an important template for folks in our Black Belt. Unfortunately, the CHOOSE Act does not support educational pioneers like these, leaving a gap in the landscape that could otherwise enrich the state's educational ecosystem. Were the authors of this bill afraid the kids from our Title I schools would leave to create their own micro-schools, and we would lose that lucrative funding?

The Special Needs Dilemma

The maze becomes even more complex for students with special needs, for these students often find their choices reduced by funding limitations and regulations, preventing them from fully participating. True school choice should be inclusive, not exclusive. Again, without fully funding homeschooling, special needs children are not given choices in the CHOOSE Act. Private schools are not required to serve them. And obtaining the coveted IEP is a battle zone within the public system. Currently 1 in 7 children in Alabama schools are on IEPs, which eliminates the “universal” from this school choice bill. 

While the CHOOSE Act intends to offer families and students a map of their ideal educational destination, the reality is a maze filled with puzzles and challenges. In essence, it appears that Alabama has created the most regulated school choice bill in all the land. Whatever happened to our Alabama freedom?

In the end, understanding the CHOOSE Act is not just about deciphering rules; it is about envisioning an education system where every student has the opportunity to thrive, regardless of their starting point in the maze. Perhaps our state can even aim higher than the governor’s goal of ranking 30th in the nation in terms of education. I would actually like us to aim for the top five. But then, I cannot imagine achieving that goal without including fully funded homeschoolers and a micro-school revolution in the CHOOSE Act.

Let us hope for a future where the path to choosing the best education is as clear as the solution to a well-designed maze, where every turn leads to new possibilities and every student can find their way to success.

Jennifer Wolverton is the CEO of Log Cabin Schoolhouse, author of ALSchoolChoice on FB, and Parent Advocate with K12 Policy Alliance. To connect with the author of this story, email Jennifer@LogCabinSchoolhouse.com.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819news.com

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