MONTGOMERY — The Parental Rights in Children's Education (PRICE) Act passed committee on Wednesday after receiving its second public hearing in a Senate committee.
Senate Bill 202 had a public hearing in the Senate Education Policy Committee a few weeks ago. However, no vote was held on the legislation, and the bill was sent to the Finance and Taxation Education Committee.
On Wednesday, the PRICE Act received its second public hearing, which hosted the same players and speeches it had received in its previous public hearing.
The bill allows parents to apply for their children's Educational Savings Accounts (ESAs). Several states are enacting universal ESA programs as they provide the most flexibility. Funds provided through vouchers and tax credit scholarships can only be used for tuition and fees, but ESA funds can be used for many education-related expenses.
A 13-person advisory board would manage the ESA program through the Department of Revenue.
Opponents included local school superintendents, the Council for Leaders in Alabama, the Alabama Education Association (AEA) and the School Superintendents of Alabama (SSA).
Proponents included The Heritage Foundation, The Reason Foundation, Eagle Forum of Alabama and the Alabama Policy Institute.
Opponents argued that the PRICE Act lacks accountability, would leave the door open for fraud, and would steal much-needed funds from the state's Education Trust Fund (ETF).
Proponents argued that data from other states how no notable economic downsides when enacting similar legislation. They also claim that the increased competitiveness in the school marketplace would improve Alabama's lackluster performance in education.
At the conclusion of the public hearing, Stutts presented an amendment that would cap expenditures at $50 million against the $288.2 million fiscal note originally attached to the bill, which proponents felt was an inflated figure.
The initial figure assumed that 5% of eligible public school students enrolled for the 2022-2023 school year would participate in the program.
Committee chairman State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) announced the bill did not yet have his seal of approval, but he was willing to work behind the scenes to fine-tune the legislation before it would make its way to the Senate floor for a vote.
"I don't have a problem moving the bill along as chairperson," Orr said. "But I've told him the $50 million cap may not be; it may have to go lower."
He continued, "With the understanding of the sponsor, before the bill, if it is to get out of committee today before it hits the floor, we've still got a lot of work to do. It does not have, for what it's worth, and I say that with a smile, my good seal of approval yet. But, it's a work in progress, and we're going to need to continue working."
State Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham) gave a lengthy exposition of the problems he foresees with the legislation, claiming there would be no standards for private schools and homeschoolers that accept funds through an ETF.
"I ain't against nobody [sic] wanting to send [their] kids to private school," Smitherman said. "But you don't take no money from these public kids to reduce them, to send them to private school."
Despite Democratic protestation, the amended version of the bill passed committee with a vote of 12-3 with one abstention. True to Orr's word, further work is expected on the bill before it appears on the Senate floor for deliberation.
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