Despite a setback last week, there's still time to pass major school choice legislation in the current legislative session, according to State Sen. Larry Stutts (R-Tuscumbia).
A public hearing was held on Senate Bill 202, also known as the Parental Rights in Children's Education (PRICE) Act, last Wednesday in the Senate Education Policy Committee. However, no vote was held on the legislation.
Committee chairman State Sen. Donnie Chesteen (R-Geneva) instead sent the bill over to the Finance and Taxation Education committee. Stutts called the move a "stalling tactic" last week.
State Rep. Ernie Yarbrough (R-Trinity) is carrying the bill in the House.
The bill allows parents to apply for Educational Savings Accounts (ESAs) for their children. 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.
Stutts told 1819 News on Tuesday the PRICE Act will be voted on in the Finance and Taxation Education Senate committee next week.
"It was re-committed to the Finance and Taxation Education (Senate) committee today. Of course, there's a 24-hour notice required to have something on the agenda so it won't be on the agenda for tomorrow's committee, but I've had assurance from the chairman, State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) that it will be on the agenda next Wednesday and that we will vote on it that day," Stutts said. "I hope to have it out of committee one week from tomorrow and then moving forward. The House version of the bill actually has a public hearing tomorrow in the House committee tomorrow at 1 p.m. Maybe the House bill will get moving out of committee, and I hope to have mine out of committee in a week."
Chesteen said last week he wanted the PRICE Act to go to the Finance and Taxation Education committee to examine its impact on the budget and then go back again to the Education Policy committee at a later date.
Stutts said, "If they do that, we're going to have problems."
"They're not moving it back and forth and back and forth and running out the session," Stutts said. "If we get it out of the committee then it's eligible to go to the (Senate) floor; we're going to have problems if they try to move it back and forth, back and forth."
State Senate Majority Leader Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville) told the Business Council of Alabama's Government Affairs committee on Tuesday that he hasn't seen a fiscal note on the PRICE Act, but he's "hearing it's upwards around $600 million."
"Obviously, that puts a major hole in our budgets that will be very difficult to fill. I know my caucus feels strongly about parental choice and school choice," Scofield said. "We also know that we can not throw the baby out with the bathwater. We need to demand accountability with our existing schools and make our existing schools that consistently fail our students we need to hold them accountable and make sure that they do better and we back that up with resources. I know y'all have heard me talk about that last year and we are still struggling with that. School choice is heavily debated. We have heavy discussions on a weekly basis within our caucus and will continue to do so as long as that is out there."
Despite it already being day 17 of 30 of the legislative session, Stutts was optimistic the PRICE Act could still be passed into law before the session ends.
"We're just past halfway. We'll have to get moving on it. Absolutely, there's time. What's going to affect the time, I mean, you know we can pass something in five days," Stutts said. "What we need is for the House and Senate leadership to get behind it and help grease the skids for it to keep moving. When we get it out of committee… we've passed bills a lot faster than that before. This has got to be a priority. We've got a surplus in the education budget. If we're going to take a little hit of it costing something, there's no better time to do it."
The majority of Alabama voters want school choice, according to a recent poll by the Alabama Republican Party.
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