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Bronner warns against education savings accounts

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – David Bronner, CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, is cautioning lawmakers against diverting dollars earmarked for public education directly to parents, warning that such policies could create an education budget shortfall exceeding $650 million a year.

In this month’s Advisor, a monthly newsletter published by the RSA, Bronner specifically warned against implementing what’s known as education savings accounts, a program that allow parents to use public tax dollars to send their children to schools of their choice, be they private schools, other public schools or homeschool. 

Bronner said the Legislature has responded appropriately in recent years to calls for school choice by authorizing charter schools and providing scholarships to students stuck in failing schools, but warned that the ESA movement is a step too far.

“There remains a growing movement for an extreme version of school choice – the creation of education savings accounts,” Bronner, who’s been RSA’s CEO for 50 years, wrote. 

“Essentially, the state would allocate funding to students and not directly to public schools, which means these funds could be spent on private school tuition or to be pocketed by parents who homeschool. Some school choice advocates claim that doing so would put more pressure on public schools to improve.”

Support for expanding school choice policies like education savings accounts has grown among Alabama lawmakers in recent years, with several bills considered school choice expansions having passed this most recent session. Some lawmakers, however as well as public school officials, have strongly opposed diverting public education dollars towards private institutions, others have said choice expansion is coming.

Rep. Ernie Yarbrough, R-Trinity, and Sen. Larry Stutts, R-Tuscumbia, sponsored a bill this past session that would have created education savings accounts and given around $6,900 to eligible parents to use towards public school alternatives, money that would come directly from the state’s public education budget. While the bill failed to ultimately become law, Gov. Kay Ivey came out in support of education savings accounts in July, telling Capitol Journal’s Todd Stacy that her office was working on education savings account legislation to introduce next year.

“It is very important for our parents to have choices of where to send their children for school. Whether it’s public, private, home schooled or whatever,” Ivey said. “The goal is to get our children a quality education.”

The PRICE Act drew considerable attention from both proponents and opponents to the PRICE Act, the bill that would establish an education savings account program.

Bronner said a bill similar to Yarbrough’s proposal, he warned, “would have gutted public education by an estimated $657 million annually,” and was not a feasible approach to improving education. He also warned that the nearly $660 million such a proposal would cost the state’s public education coffers on top of recent tax cuts could be disastrous for Alabama public schools.

“If the Legislature creates education savings accounts, the Education Trust Fund could see a decline of over $1 billion in revenue annually. Yet, how is this supposed to help public education?”

Next year’s legislative session begins Feb. 6.

“If we truly care about the future of public education in Alabama,” Bronner wrote, “and truly care about Alabama’s children in a state that has the lowest taxes in America, then we should think about the end results of school choice.”

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