During her annual State of the State address on Tuesday, Gov. Kay Ivey announced the “CHOOSE Act,” her version of a school voucher program that has been discussed for years.
Ivey said passing the Creating Hope & Opportunity for Our Students’ Education (CHOOSE) Act will be her top priority for the legislative session. Sponsors and education budget chairmen, Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, and Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, filed the bill Tuesday.
“Improving our state’s education system is a process, and we have to meet the needs of all students. As governor, I realize the way to do that is to make sure there are opportunities available for our children,” Ivey said. “For some families, that means having the chance to send their child to a charter, magnet or private school, or to homeschool them. School choice is a spectrum, and last year, we recognized that to expand our options in Alabama, we had to first improve our existing options – charter
schools and the Alabama Accountability Act. You accomplished that – thank you.
“Now, our next step is to provide our parents, beginning with those most in need, education savings accounts, which will further us on our journey to become the most school-choice friendly state in the nation.”
The CHOOSE Act program would provide up to $7,000 per child enrolled at an accredited, participating private or public school through an education savings account funded by a new refundable income tax credit. Additionally, families who opt for homeschooling could receive up to $2,000 per homeschooler, with a $4,000 cap for families with more than one homeschooler, for eligible educational expenses. As the governor outlined during her state of the state address, families would begin to participate in the program during the 2025-2026 academic year.
“Gov. Ivey and her team were very receptive and collaborative to feedback from Rep. Garrett and me in drafting the CHOOSE Act,” Orr said. “Because of this, I believe we have crafted school choice/education savings account legislation that addresses the needs of an important segment of the needs of our school children while preserving the fiscal integrity of our public schools.”
In the initial rollout for the first two years, families with an income up to 300 percent of federal poverty level will be eligible. In the third year and beyond, any Alabama family will be eligible, placing the CHOOSE program on a pathway to becoming truly universal as the program grows.
“We must leave no stone unturned when it comes to providing the next generation of Alabamians with the opportunity to pursue an educational path that best sets them up for success,” Garrett said. “I would like to commend Governor Ivey for proposing a plan that will help take school choice to the next level in Alabama. The CHOOSE Act will give hardworking parents a tool that has the potential to change the trajectory of their child’s educational future.”
The CHOOSE Act directs the Legislature to appropriate $100 million to the CHOOSE Program Fund annually, and the governor has already set aside $50 million for the fund in the Fiscal Year 2024 Education Trust Fund supplemental.
The CHOOSE Act has already garnered the support of Legislative Leadership with President Pro Tempore Greg Reed and Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter co-sponsoring the bill.
“Children are gifts from God, and they are the future of our great state. As legislators, one of our greatest responsibilities is to allocate resources in fiscally responsible ways to ensure that kids in our communities have every opportunity to be successful and achieve their dreams,” Reed said. “A family’s zip-code should not be the primary indicator of a child’s educational outcome, and we are committed to giving Alabama families the ability to make the best decisions regarding their children’s educations.”
“My priority with school choice legislation has always been providing parents with additional options without negatively impacting Alabama’s public education system,” Ledbetter said. “After working with the governor’s office on the CHOOSE Act for the last year, I feel that we have come up with a strong piece of legislation that accomplishes just that. I appreciate Governor Ivey’s leadership on this important issue, and I am proud to co-sponsor this legislation in the House.”
The CHOOSE Act includes a testing requirement, which Ivey’s office characterized as “simply a standardized assessment aligned to the curricula of the participating school, a nationally norm-referenced achievement assessment or a nationally recognized aptitude assessment of the participating school’s choice.”
“My goal is to put us on a trajectory to make our program fully universal, while also maintaining our full and total support of public education. At the end of the day, I believe the CHOOSE Act – packaged with providing our K-12 teachers the highest starting salaries among our neighboring states – will help our public schools become even stronger,” Ivey said.
Alabama Democrats have challenged the idea of a school voucher program, arguing that resources would be better spent in bolstering public education.
They have also raised concerns about potential disparities and whether the ESAs will really benefit children from all backgrounds or simply become a tax write-off for wealthier families that can already afford to send their children to private schools.