“We will continue our fight for school choice until all parents can find good, safe schools for their children.”
“We especially support the innovative financing mechanisms that make options available to all children: education savings accounts (ESAs), vouchers, and tuition tax credits.”
“We reject a one-size-fits-all approach to education and support a broad range of choices for parents and children at the state and local level.”
This is the official position of the Republican Party on school choice according to the national party platform. Around the nation, many conservative and GOP-controlled states are making the vision of this platform a reality.
In Alabama, however, a bill this session that aimed to do the same here was stopped dead in its tracks. The bill, like a program passed in West Virginia last year and countless others being considered in almost every state, would have vastly expanded school choice in the state and been a game-changer for our education system.
But it died, like every other major school choice bill in Alabama over the past few years.
Why is school choice such a hard sell in Alabama? With bills passing in other states left and right, it is past time we consider this question.
To answer it, I want to turn to two groups of people that are in some ways very different yet, in others, they are very alike. The groups? Alabama football fans and Tennessee football fans.
We all know that Alabama fans think they are going to the national championship game every year. We all know that they believe in their team and that many expect to win that game. And as much as I hate to admit it, with all their rings and their history–last year not included–it is not that crazy for them to be this confident.
Now the funny thing is–and you’ll know this if you’re a part of the Tennessee fan base–there are a good amount of Tennessee fans that portray that same confidence. At least at the beginning of the year.
As a Tennessee fan myself, every year I attend the Alabama v. Tennessee game, and I wear that beautiful orange. I tell my Alabama friends about how sad they will be when we leave the stadium. If we are in Tuscaloosa, I tell them that they will have to protect me from the angry fans who might want to attack a bright orange winner.
But we’ve never won. And I’ve only received looks of pity on the way out.
Even with over a decade of losing to Alabama under our belts, however, there is a subset of Tennessee fans who every year think, “This is the year we win it all.” Unfortunately, they’ve been wrong for over twenty years.
I hope you can see the similarity here. For many Tennessee and Alabama fans, we have the same outward confidence at the beginning of the season. There is an important difference, though. Almost no Tennessee fans are actually making plans to be at the national championship game in January at the beginning of the football season. I have never once looked up where the game was and started shopping for hotels, planning an itinerary, or checking out flights.
For Alabama fans, though, it’s a little different. Many Alabama fans right now are making plans to be at either the SEC championship game or the national championship game next year. Still more of you are already seriously looking at your schedules to make a trip happen if need be.
What’s the difference here? While Tennessee fans may say we think it is our year, deep down, we do not really believe it. And we surely aren’t changing our plans because of this hope. You Alabama fans, however, are all shaping your schedules around games you are not even sure you will be a part of yet.
Alabama and Tennessee fans–we have the same outward beliefs, but our actions betray what we really believe. Or what we don’t really believe.
When it comes to school choice in Alabama, most Alabama legislators are like Tennessee fans. They talk a big talk and boast about the future, but they’re not making plans. They’re not changing how they vote or what they support based on this belief. They’re not dreaming of a future in which families, regardless of their zip code, have equal access to high-quality education. They’re not working to offer students stuck in some of the worst schools in the nation or those in rural areas who might prefer an online curriculum yet can’t afford it, another option.
In short, they are not putting what they say they believe into action.
Why? Maybe it’s because they don’t really believe it.
Maybe most Alabama legislators don’t really think school choice will help our state. Maybe they just run as a Republican because they’re socially conservative and hope no one calls them out when they otherwise ignore the platform of their party.
It would explain a lot. It would explain why other states are running circles around us in this arena. Other states that, supposedly, are not as conservative as ours. It would explain why we keep spending record amounts of taxpayer dollars on public education while giving little to nothing to school choice programs. It would explain why Alabama legislators listen so intently to the Alabama Education Association and won’t dare cross them. And it would explain why the Parent’s Choice Act, a real game-changer for Alabama students, didn’t see the light of day this session.
Alabama Republican legislators, if you don’t believe in school choice, that’s alright. No hard feelings are held here.
But do voters a favor. Tell the truth and admit it.
Parker Snider is Director of Policy Analysis for the Alabama Policy Institute. 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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