Alabama House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, stopped by the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce to highlight the Legislature’s priorities for the 2024 session.
It is no surprise that school choice is at the top of the list, as Gov. Kay Ivey has publicly called for the body to pass a bill that would establish Education Savings Accounts, basically a voucher system that would allow taxpayer dollars to follow students to private schools.
“I certainly believe once this is done, Alabama’s probably gonna be in the top 10 as far as school choice,” Ledbetter said.
Bills to create Education Savings Accounts have failed in the past two legislative sessions, with strong opposition coming from the Alabama Education Association. The major education lobbying group targeted accountability as the main concern of those bills, arguing the program as described could become a free-for-all for misuse of public funds.
Proponents say the system would give parents more options of where to send their kids to school and inspire competition they say will improve public schools.
But few people know just what Ivey’s proposed version will look like, as the governor is waiting to share more details at her State of the State address shortly before the session begins.
Whatever the program looks like, it is likely to mostly benefit students already enrolled in private schools, as even proponents of the previous bills have stated that they expect fewer than 5 percent of public school students to elect to take advantage of the ESAs. That figure would mean approximately 80 percent of students using ESAs would be those already in private schools at no cost to the taxpayers.
No school choice bill has been filed yet, but State Rep. Ernie Yarbrough has announced his intention to file a bill that sounds similar to the school choice bill he carried last year.
Ledbetter said he also expects lawmakers to take up the thorny issue of a gaming bill, which has been a consistently difficult issue to push across the line.
Other priorities highlighted by Ledbetter include election security, making Alabama military-friendly, removing regulations on small business and addresing the state’s mental health crisis.
Session starts on Feb. 6.