“No step too high for a high stepper.”
—Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey

When Gov. Kay Ivey labeled the Alabama Legislature a “herd of turtles” in 2021, she may have been speaking from experience as a wise old tortoise.

“Slow and steady wins the race” describes Ivey’s political approach quite well. Since her 1979 start in government, Ivey has slowly but surely risen to Alabama’s top political post. With only four years of her second term ahead, Ivey can finally see the finish line of her decades-long career.

The question is, will Ivey’s final steps in office remain slow and steady, or will she step higher and faster than ever before to solve big issues that have long bedeviled Alabama?

Consider the issue of educational opportunity and achievement. “School choice” and “parental rights” have become conservative buzzwords in recent months on Goat Hill. Indeed, Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth may become the golden goose Alabama needs after making a forceful case for school choice in his recent inaugural speech. Yet it remains to be seen what choices Alabama’s political class will make to empower parents in the next legislative session.

Any step towards expanding “school choice” is a step in the right direction, but some steps are slower and lower than others. Alabama’s children deserve nothing less than intrepid haste and high cotton on this issue. The clock is ticking, and they’ll only be children for so long.

If anyone understands the importance of childhood education, it’s Ivey. A former teacher, education is near and dear to Ivey’s heart, a fact demonstrated by her advocacy for childhood literacy, on display in a recent visit to Chisholm Elementary to pass out a stack of books to students.

“It’s just refreshing to see how excited children get when you encourage them to read,” Ivey said of her visit to the school in a rare interview appearance, “and that is so important, that we teach our children to read and to read good.”

The "most important thing we need is our parents being involved," Ivey went on to say, "We not only support our parents being involved, we encourage them to be involved in our child's choice of education, and we want parents to help make those decisions."

Ivey seems to be heading in the right direction. Her most recent executive orders—including millions in grant money to finance books for children, a commission to study improving elementary and secondary education, a K-12 teacher apprenticeship pilot program, and progress reports on the Literacy Act and Numeracy Act—are all positive, though plodding, steps. Ivey’s proposal of more startup money for charter schools is an even better step, though still a bit too low and slow for Alabama’s children to truly get the opportunities they deserve.

Indeed, if Ivey wishes to show she isn’t merely a slow and steady tortoise leading a herd of turtles, then she will call on the legislature to pass some version of the “mother of all school choice bills,” the Parent's Choice Act. If Ivey truly wants to empower parental involvement in education, then education savings accounts are the highest and fastest step to that end, for both rural and urban Alabamians.

“The primary vehicle for enabling choice has been education savings accounts, which give parents a portion of their children’s state education funds,” writes school choice activist Corey DeAngelis in the “Wall Street Journal.”

“This money can be used for tuition at brick-and-mortar private schools but also for other educational expenses, such as tutoring, microschooling, online learning, instructional materials and homeschooling. Thanks to their flexibility, the programs can help revitalize struggling rural communities by creating incentives for much-needed career and technical training and keeping residents from leaving for opportunity elsewhere.”

The final choice on school choice is ultimately up to the Ivey and the Alabama legislature, but parents who wish for more opportunity and choice should make their voices heard in the coming months, especially before special interests drown out their voices. There will undoubtedly be well-financed opposition against swift or drastic change, especially from that political machine known as the Alabama Education Association. At bottom, teachers’ unions fund teachers and political patronage programs, not kids. When an education system is used as a political piggy bank for generations and lobbyists get paid handsomely to defend the failed status quo, no one should wonder why student achievement is so lackluster.

Nonetheless, we must wait and see how fast Ivey is willing to move. Allow me to suggest a certain symbolic date to get a lofty school choice deal done in principle: Alabama Gopher Tortoise Day. As luck would have it, this falls on April 10th, right in the middle of the regular legislative session. Ivey should know the date well, as she herself proclaimed April 10th to be Gopher Tortoise Day in 2018.

What a perfect day for Kay Ivey to come out of her shell and swiftly prove there is indeed no step too high for a high stepper.

Joey Clark is a native Alabamian and is currently the host of the radio program News and Views on News Talk 93.1 FM WACV out of Montgomery, AL M-F 9 am-12 noon. His column appears every Tuesday in 1819 News. To contact Joey for media or speaking appearances as well as any feedback, please email newsandviews931@gmail.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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