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CHOOSE Act passes legislature, awaits Ivey’s signature today

The bill would help parents pay for the cost to send their children to private schools primarily. 

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The Republican supermajority gave final passage in the Senate to Alabama’s school choice legislation as it now awaits signature from Gov. Kay Ivey.

The bill, the CHOOSE Act, was passed 23-9 after apparent pressure from the governor’s office because Ivey has stated school choice is a top priority. The bill would create an education savings account, ESA, for $7,000 to help parents pay for the cost to send their children to private schools primarily. 

“Today, we’ve finally overcome the last hurdle in enacting Alabama’s historic education savings account plan after the Alabama Senate strongly approved the CHOOSE Act,” Ivey said. “While our state has a strong public education system, all Alabama families will soon have the right to choose their children’s schools. This monumental achievement would not have been possible without the unwavering support of Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Reed and Senator Arthur Orr. I am grateful for their efforts as well as our partners in the State House for maximizing education freedom in Alabama. We want every Alabama student – whether they are at a public school, private school, magnet, charter or homeschool – the opportunity to receive a high quality education. I look forward to signing the CHOOSE Act into law.”

The bill was debated on the Senate floor for over 4 hours as Democratic lawmakers questioned the purpose and efficacy of the legislation. Both Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D- and Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton said the legislation was akin to segregation and was about giving white and wealthy families the option to separate while using public funds or “paid for on the back of the poor.”

The history of private schools, especially Christian private schools in the South, is deeply intertwined with racism, segregation and class. Many critics have questioned why public funds are being used to allow parents to send their children to private entities that the government has no jurisdiction over.

A Forbes article from 2021 also argues that the school choice voucher like system is rooted in a racist history. The article also argues that school choice is also another way to underfund and undercut public schools in favor of private schools. 

But Singleton warned that the CHOOSE Act created a false notion of choice because schools can still deny children from attending based on their guidelines. For public schools this could mean not accepting a student outside of the district and for private schools it could be outright denying a student because they do not meet the criteria the school wants.

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“When we say this we act like they can go anywhere they want to all the time and that’s not true,” Singleton said.

The legislation will do the following: 

  • Create education savings accounts for parents of eligible students though the Department of Revenue.
  • Establish the CHOOSE Act fund for the legislature to appropriate not less than $100 million annually.
  • Make ESAs available by 2025-2026 and funded through a new refundable income tax credit.
  • Make the cap on the credit $7,000 for participating students in participating schools. This cap decreases to 2,000 or 4,000 for a family if a students is not enrolled in a participating school.

Other Republican legislators applauded the bill’s final passage.

“It was an honor to work with Governor Ivey and her team to swiftly pass a school choice bill that she declared her number one priority this Session,” Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said. “I believe Governor Ivey desires nothing but the best for all Alabama’s school children and their families both today and in the years to come.”

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth released a statement saying the bill will ensure every child has the opportunity to obtain a good education that prepares them for the workforce.

“Passage of the CHOOSE Act ensures every Alabama child – regardless of their family’s income or address – has the opportunity to receive a quality education that prepares them for high- paying, 21st Century jobs,” Ainsworth said.

The legislation is expected to be signed today by Ivey at 9:30 a.m.

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Patrick Darrington is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected].

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