Retired educators protest Alabama school choice bill

Published: Feb. 8, 2022 at 7:45 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 8, 2022 at 7:47 PM CST
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Debate continues to brew regarding a controversial new bill over school choice. State Sen. Del Marsh’s bill would enable families to take their children’s education dollars to the education providers of their choosing

Concerned citizens and retired educators protested in front of the Statehouse. With signs in hand, they made their voices heard against Senate Bill 140.

“We are against any and all bills that remove money from the Education Trust Fund,” said retired educator Cecilia Sophie.

This bill, sponsored by Marsh, would let parents use $5,500 per child of state education money to spend on going to a school outside of their district, including private ones.

Sophie was in education for over 40 years and believes it will drain resources for public schools.

“We have public schools that are falling apart, where teachers spend their own money to buy supplies. That is not an economic or efficient way of helping children in this state. And I see SB 140 as being Alabama Accountability Act, part two, said Sophie. “I think all of this money needs to be allotted to the schools in Alabama, that you need to improve the facilities.”

Steve Fowler, a retired educator from Fayette, is concerned this will negatively impact smaller districts.

“It’s going to severely affect the finances of the smaller systems. You’re very likely going to see extracurricular programs cut,” said Fowler.

Nathan Cunneen and Walter Blanks Jr. are co-founders of School Choice Boyz, a youth-targeted initiative. They both benefitted from school choice programs in Ohio and Florida.

“We are here at the Alabama Statehouse as advocates for school choice in Alabama. Our lives were directly changed by the power of educational options,” said Cunneen.

“I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, in the inner city, and was surrounded by poverty, crime and low expectations. Thankfully, because of school choice, I was able to be out and removed from that educational environment and put in a place where I truly thrived in my educational journey, took a life of its own. I graduated high school, I graduated college, which statistically, as a Black kid, I was not supposed to do that,” said Blanks.

As the founders of School Choice Boyz, they made the trip to Montgomery in response to the protest and to show their support for the bill.

“It’s important that we don’t trap kids into a one-size-fits-all system, so that they can really excel in their futures and in their education. And school choice enables families to get access to the sorts of options that they need to be successful,” Cunneen said. “School choice creates competitive forces in the education marketplace, which actually improves the quality of all schools for all students. School choice is just a true win-win.”

The director of the Alabama Education Association warns this would cut more than $420 million from the education budget and push thousands of students to leave public schools. And some home-school parents oppose this idea because they would only be allowed to use this money on state-approved curriculum.

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