Lieutenant Gov. Will Ainsworth is ready to tackle the years-long debate over school choice in Alabama during the upcoming legislative session in February 2024.
Last week, State Rep. Ernie Yarbrough (R-Trinity) announced his intentions to file the "strongest school choice bill in the nation" in the 2024 legislative session, opening the option for Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) for all Alabamians.
Ainsworth shared 1819 News' story on social media with a resounding show of support.
Let’s go!!! It’s time for school choice in Alabama. https://t.co/atX3K6x8sV— Will Ainsworth (@willainsworthAL) December 22, 2023
Ainsworth recently told 1819 News that he has long supported school choice and intends to see a strong school choice bill through the legislature in 2024.
"I'm going to put my support behind whatever piece of legislation I think will best move the needle for the students in the state," Ainsworth said.
He continued, "For me, if the goal is really to have the strongest school choice program in the country – which that should be our goal because we're at the bottom of most educational statistics, or near the bottom." So I think the goal should be, 'Let's try to fix a broken system.' We know school choice has worked in other states. So, I'm going to put my support behind the strongest bill, and I'm going to fight hard to keep it as strong as I can and not really give in or compromise on the things that are going to make the bill strong."
Critics of school choice, most notably the Alabama Education Association, claim any ESA would take resources away from the state's already struggling school system by bleeding the state's Education Trust Fund (ETF). Critics also lamented the perceived lack of accountability of state funds given to parents to use on a wide array of educational materials, equipment and activities.
As with 2023's Parental Rights in Children's Education (PRICE) Act, many conservative supporters of school choice anticipate any strong bill to suffer death by a thousand amendments in the legislative process or getting buried in a committee. In addition to concerns about state-mandated testing, reporting requirements, or any number of undesirable outcomes, some school choice supporters fear the watering down of any meaningful legislation through political compromise.
For Ainsworth, there may be some wiggle room in implementing the eventual bill. However, he does not intend to compromise on giving parents the ultimate freedom to determine their children's education.
"I don't see myself necessarily compromising a lot on the principals of the bill that is going to give parents flexibility and allow them to do what's best," Ainsworth said.
"No doubt it will take dollars out of [the ETF]," he added. "But what we have to realize is that it's the taxpayers' dollars, the parents of these students who are homeschooling or sending their kids to private school. Maybe there's families out there who can't afford to send their kids to private school, but if they had this, would. Or maybe they would decide to just do a different public school. But at the end of the day, this is going to open up where each parent who knows their child the best can decide which educational option is best for them and their future. And that's a win for Alabama and a win for the students in this state."
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