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CHOOSE Act passes legislature, awaits Ivey’s signature today

A Republican majority gave Alabama's school choice bill final passage in the Senate, where it now awaits Governor Kay Ivey's signature.

The bill, the CHOOSE Act, passed 23-9 after apparent pressure from the governor's office, as Ivey said school choice was a top priority. The bill would create a $7,000 Education Savings Account ESA primarily to help parents pay for the cost of sending their children to private schools.

“Today, we finally cleared the final hurdle to enact Alabama’s historic education savings account plan, with the Alabama Senate’s strong approval of the CHOOSE Act,” Ivey said. “Our state has a strong public education system, and every Alabama family will soon have the right to choose their child’s school. This would not have been possible without the unwavering support of Reed and Senator Arthur Orr. I am grateful for the efforts of them and our state legislative partners to maximize educational freedom in Alabama. We want every student in Alabama to have the opportunity to receive a quality education, whether in public school, private school, magnet school, charter school, or homeschool. Sign the CHOOSE Act I look forward to seeing it come to fruition.”

The bill was debated on the Senate floor for more than four hours as Democratic lawmakers questioned the bill's purpose and effectiveness. Both Sen. Roger Smitherman (D) and Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton said the bill was akin to racism, calling public funds to go to white and wealthy families or “paying the burden on the backs of poor people.” “It gives them the option to live separately,” he said.

The history of private schools, especially Christian private schools in the South, is deeply intertwined with racism, segregation, and class. Many critics question why public funds would be used to allow parents to send their children to private institutions that are not under government control.

A 2021 Forbes article also argues that systems like school choice vouchers are rooted in a history of racism. The article also argues that school choice is another way to underfund public schools and cut budgets in favor of private schools.

But Singleton warned that the CHOOSE law creates a false notion of choice, as schools can refuse to allow children to attend based on guidelines. For public schools, this could mean not accepting students from outside the district, and for private schools, it could mean rejecting students altogether if they don't meet the school's desired standards.

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“When we say this, we act like they can go wherever they want to go whenever they want, and that's not true,” Singleton said.

This law:

  • Creates education savings accounts for parents of eligible students through the Department of Revenue.
  • Establishes the CHOOSE Act Fund to which Congress can appropriate more than $100 million annually.
  • The ESA will be available by 2025-2026 and will be funded through a new refundable income tax credit.
  • Caps credits for participating students at participating schools at $7,000. If the student is not enrolled in a participating school, this limit is reduced to 2,000 or 4,000 students per family.

Other Republicans also praised the bill's final passage.

“It was an honor to work with Governor Ivey and her team to quickly pass school choice legislation, which I declared a top priority this Congress,” said Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur). . “I believe that Governor Ivey only wants what is best for all Alabama schoolchildren and their families, now and in the future.”

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth said in a statement that this bill will ensure that every child has the opportunity to receive a great education that prepares them for the workforce.

“Passage of the CHOOSE Act will ensure that every child in Alabama, regardless of family income or location, has the opportunity to receive a quality education that prepares them for high-paying 21st century jobs.” said Ainsworth.

The bill is scheduled to be signed by Ivey today at 9:30 a.m.

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