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Opinion | Kay Ivey offered hope for a better Alabama — then took it back

There was a lot of good in Ivey’s State of the State, but a push for school “choice” will undo it all.

Governor Kay Ivey delivered the State of the State for 2024 Tuesday February 6, 2024 in Montgomery, Ala. Governor’s Office /Hal Yeager

One step forward, two steps back. 

Maybe by now Alabamians should be accustomed to such a fate in our governance. But somehow, with each legislative session, and with the governor’s State of the State that kicks off each session, it’s still disheartening to hear out loud. 

Tuesday night’s address from Gov. Kay Ivey was no different. 

On the one hand, there were moments of progress. Like establishing a veterans’ home at Dovetail Landing or providing checkups to pregnant women at nine county health departments in rural Alabama. Or establishing the School of Healthcare Sciences, expanding broadband access and other infrastructure, working on meaningful ways to assist working families. And finally, finally, finally passing gambling legislation that properly regulates and taxes the immense amount of gaming that’s already occurring in Alabama and opens up scholarship programs for Alabama’s children. 

Those are good things. All of them. They’re things almost every Alabamian cares about and wants. 

Those programs and legislation, if approved and passed, will transform this state into a better place to work and live. It will help kids learn, veterans survive and it will send a whole generation of impoverished children to college or vocational schools that they would have previously been shut out of. 

Those programs will lift from the bottom up. They have the potential to drastically improve the lives of the most needy among us. 

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Sure, it would have been nice to hear about Medicaid expansion plans – or any plans, for that matter, for solving Alabama’s worsening rural healthcare crisis – or something concrete on how we might stop having third-world horrific prisons in this state, instead of simply saying that running a corrections system is “hard.” 

And, yeah, it would have been great to get actual specifics on how we might help that workforce, such as through offering childcare credits or other tax breaks for working families. 

Honestly, it would have been better if Ivey had just stopped about 10 minutes sooner. Just lopped off the end of the speech, remembered that she’s a former public school teacher and handed the depressing ending back to whoever wrote it. 

Because “school choice,” as outlined by Ivey and in the legislation for which she advocated, will undo most of the good done by those other programs. At least where Alabama’s neediest students are involved. 

To be clear, this is a bill that provides a $7,000-per-student slush fund – up to $100 million annually for now and who knows how much more later – to private, typically religious-based organizations, many of which were built with the specific business plan of keeping Jim Crow segregation alive and well and still have the racial makeup to show for it, with little to no oversight, no public accountability and hardly any checks to ensure my tax dollars are being spent responsibly. 

But even worse – and yeah, I know it’s hard to get worse than what I’ve described above, but that’s how bad this plan is – it will cripple public schools in our most impoverished counties by sucking away funding from already underfunded schools, and all the while it will shut out of the program the very students it claims to want to help. 

It takes only a basic understanding of math to know this is true. 

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The “CHOOSE” program provides $7,000 annually for a student to attend a private school. The average tuition cost of private schools in Alabama is more than $8,200 per year, according to the Education Data Initiative and Private School Review. 

Those tuition costs typically don’t include lunches, so tough luck, free and reduced lunch kids. And it never includes transportation costs. They also rarely include a variety of fees for various programs – some totaling into the thousands annually – and sometimes don’t include all textbooks. 

Yeah, this is gonna be a godsend for the poor, struggling kids in Lowndes or Jackson counties. Where there are few, if any, private schools for most parents to choose, and not a single one this tax break for wealthy people will cover. 

So, yeah, Kay Ivey and the Republican supermajority she leads offered up a few hopeful nuggets on Tuesday evening. 

And on their way out the door absolutely crushed public school teachers and this state’s most at-risk kids.

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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