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Smitherman: PRICE Act takes money from needy students

A Senate committee gave the “school choice” bill a favorable report, but lawmakers warned that it faces a tough road to a vote.

Sen. Rodger Smitherman, center, on the Senate floor.
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The PRICE Act, Alabama Republicans’ “school choice” bill, finally made it out of a committee on Wednesday, but not without a warning. 

The Senate Education Policy Committee gave the bill — which would provide parents of private school or homeschool students with $6,900 annually — a favorable report after yet another public hearing and a significant change. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Larry Stutts, offered an amended version of the legislation which contained a $50 million cap. 

That would be a significant reduction to the anticipated cost of nearly $700 million (and likely higher) projected in a fiscal note attached to the bill. All of those funds would be taken from the state’s education trust fund, which provides funding for all education-related matters in the state.  

Of the $50 million cap, Sen. Arthur Orr, the education budget chairman, said, “That number is going to need to be lower for this to have a chance.” 

After the lengthy discussion, it was also apparent that the bill would not be heading straight to the Senate floor for a vote, but would instead require significant alterations and compromise. 

Sen. Rodger Smitherman gave perhaps the most impassioned argument against the bill, noting the underfunding of several public schools across the state and the lack of tutoring and other services for struggling, poverty-stricken students. 

“That money ought to be going to those schools and those kids but y’all are in here trying to give these people the money,” Smitherman said. “Talking about school choice while at the same time trying to flunk kindergarteners from getting into first grade. There’s a bill on that. We’re trying to hold back kindergarteners and third-graders – thinking these kids are going to stay in school until they’re 20 years old. It’s ludicrous what you’re asking.” 

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Smitherman also laid out the dire reality facing many public school children, who lack basic resources to get back and forth to schools. He said thousands of children need additional tutoring services, but the kids have no way to get to tutors even if the school system offered them. 

“That’s where this $600 million should go – to helping those kids,” Smitherman said. “But you want to segregate it. You want to give money to these folks who can already afford to take their kids to private schools. And you want to ignore these other kids who really need this money.”

The PRICE Act still hasn’t passed out of committee in the House, where it also faces a difficult path to the floor.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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