One sector the Republican-led Alabama Legislature has seemed to struggle with since gaining control in 2011 has been public education.
Despite lawmakers' best efforts, Alabama continues to lag in many metrics that measure the efficacy of the state's K-12 education system.
Conservatives have suggested school choice as a remedy, potentially creating a competitive environment to achieve better results.
However, State Rep. Kenneth Paschal (R-Pelham) says there are things the legislature should consider before implementing a school choice system.
Paschal, who is currently heading a minority outreach initiative on behalf of the Alabama Republican Party, said school choice is often mentioned as an area where the GOP can excel in the black community.
However, during an interview with Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5, Paschal said "school choice" needed to be defined before the legislature proceeded.
"First off, we have to do a better job defining what that is because school choice is kind of broad," Paschal said. "So, what we have to do between now and March, we have to identify what that exactly means. There are two or three things that are supposedly 'school choice.' For example, last session, the legislation that was before us, the whole body, was that school choice was to ensure that parents had options to move your kids to another school, and the tax dollars would follow that child. And then we had another bill that was based on the income level that applies to that group of people.
"And so, school choice – I think people really want that option. I definitely support parents having a fundamental right given by God to make those decisions for kids – their upbringing, education and care. But what we have to do between now and March is narrowly [define] what does it exactly mean? What is school choice? You can take your child from Mobile to North Alabama, the tax dollars follow the child. Or what does that exactly look like?"
The Shelby County Republican lawmaker stressed the importance of a school choice option that minimized the harm done to existing public schools, which he said would be a priority for his colleagues crafting school choice legislation.
He said there could be draft legislation as early as the beginning of next year.
"School choice is definitely going to be a topic," Paschal continued. "The challenge is what does it look like? Almost like when people say 'critical race theory,' everybody saying, 'What exactly is that?' There are different versions of what that means. School choice – it is the same thing. Let's narrowly tailor to something black and white and then put out there to legislators what does school choice exactly mean."
To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email jeff.poor@1819News.com.
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