Alabama lawmakers move school choice bill out of committee

Published: May. 10, 2023 at 6:18 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - After three public hearings, a school choice bill made it out of committee. The Parental Rights in Children’s Education (PRICE) Act bill would give parents the power to spend $6,900 per child to choose how and where they educate their children.

For bill sponsor Senator Larry Stutts, R-Colbert County, just moving this bill out of committee is a big deal.

“Further than it’s ever been before, and I’m happy to have it in that position,” he said.

If passed, the school choice bill would create an Educational Savings Account parents can use to pay for educational expenses including tuition to a private or homeschool program, textbooks, extracurricular activities, summer programs, and even some post-high school education opportunities.

“If you have money left in your education savings account, it can stay there until you’re 21 and continue to be used for educational expenses,” said Stutts.

The bill would mean less money for the state’s education budget, but lawmakers have added a $50 million cap to limit those losses. Still, opponents to the bill are concerned including the executive director of the Alabama Association of School Boards, Sally Smith.

“Parents do have a right to choose something different,” said Smith. “They just don’t have the right to ask Alabama taxpayers to pay for it.”

They worry that taking taxpayer money to spend on a private school education or even to homeschool a child would mean less for students who remain in the state’s already-struggling public school systems.

“You could have your children, you know, in private schools that would benefit middle-class families, and then take those funds to use them for summer camps. Public school parents pay for summer camps,” said Smith.

There is also concern about the misuse of taxpayer dollars.

“There’s virtually no regulation of private schools in our state,” said Smith. “Under the PRICE Act, a student basically could practice tennis all day.”

Stutts considers his bill progress for all students.

“We just keep spending more money and we stay in last place. And I think that we need to try to reform it from the outside. I think parents are ultimately responsible for their children’s education. And when you put parents in charge, things change,” said Stutts.

Alabama Republican Party Chairman John Wahl issued the following statement on the PRICE Act advancing in the Alabama Senate:

“The Alabama Republican Party is extremely supportive of school choice, and all legislation that returns control of education back to parents. No child’s quality of education should be defined by the zip code where they live. School choice legislation like the PRICE Act will give Alabama students the opportunity to reach their full potential by allowing their parents the ability to choose an academic environment where their child can best thrive. I would like to thank the Senate Education Budget Committee for their leadership on this very important issue, as well as all the supporters who traveled to Montgomery and made phone calls to their legislators on behalf of this very important issue.”

This bill now moves to the Senate floor. If passed, it will go to the House.

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