Governor Kay Ivey has committed to making education savings accounts a priority during the 2024 regular legislative session, but whoever wins the special election for Senate District 9 could play a significant role in shaping any potential school choice bill.

1819 News asked each candidate — former Morgan County Commissioner Stacy George and State Reps. Brock Colvin (R-Albertville) and Wes Kitchens (R-Arab) — where he stood on school choice going into the final weeks of their campaigns.

“[I’m] for it, 100%,” George said.

Colvin also said he supported school choice but that it was important to define what it means.

“We have students trapped in failing schools, so we need to find any solution possible to help those students,” Colvin said. “...If you ask a hundred people to define school choice, they all probably define it differently.”

He said he wasn’t sure whether a “blanket,” statewide approach would be best versus targeting the schools and areas that need help the most. He added that failing schools would need to be held “accountable” to see why they are falling behind and if taxpayer money could be better spent.

“I think it’s a multistep approach, but I think there’s no doubt you got to have that conversation and find ways to help our students,” he said.

Colvin said he’s looking forward to seeing Ivey’s and other possible school choice bills next legislative session, but like with gambling expansion, “the devil is in the details.”

“If there’s anything in this bill that maybe gives the Department of Education regulatory authority over home schools or private schools, I’m going to be hesitant at that point because I don’t think that’s what we need at all,” he said. “… The last thing we need is the government putting their hands where it doesn’t belong.”

Kitchens agreed with Colvin that District 9 has excellent school systems and that the details would be paramount in deciding whether or not to support a school choice bill.

“I support providing a quality education for all children in Alabama. For most, that means a public school education in your local community,” Kitchens told 1819 News. “For others, it may be a private or parochial school, a charter school focused on math or science or being homeschooled. School choice should be about empowering parents to make academic decisions that are in the best interest of their children. I am a strong advocate for that.

However, Kitchens said he would not be for taking funding away from public schools, an argument similar to the one made by the Alabama Education Association (AEA).

“I’m not for diverting funds from our local schools to prop up underperforming schools across the state,” Kitchens said. “My goal as your next State Senator is to protect what we have, grow programs that are creating jobs and opportunities for students, and support policies that benefit learning and education across our state, all while making sure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.”

Unlike his opponents, Kitchens has a record of taking political contributions from the AEA since 2018, according to the Secretary of State’s records. The AEA has fought against school choice and took credit for the PRICE Act failing in 2023 to pass after the Association contributed roughly $1.5 million to various Alabama lawmakers in 2022.

The Secretary’s records showed Kitchens received $12,500 in 2018 from the AEA’s PAC, Alabama Voice of Teachers for Education (A-VOTE); $5,000 in 2019; $10,000 in 2021 and $5,000 in 2022.

Kitchen’s 2023 filings for his District 9 campaign showed no contributions from the AEA or A-VOTE. However, he did report a $5,000 contribution from The Southern Strategy Group PAC, of The Southern Group. The Group is partly run by Thomas Coker, a registered AEA lobbyist, and Kitchens' wife, Ashton, who formerly worked on the AEA’s governmental affairs team. In its separate contribution filings, The Group’s PAC reportedly gave Kitchens $11,500 in December, which has yet to appear in Kitchens's public filing records.

Colvin said he hasn’t taken any money from the AEA due to its stance opposing school choice.

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