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House advances school choice bill; Legislative briefs

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – After more than four hours of deliberation, a school choice bill passed in the Alabama House Tuesday in a 69-34 vote.

Known as the Creating Hope and Opportunity for Our Students’ Education Act, or CHOOSE Act, the bill would allow for eligible Alabama families to use up to $7,000 per year on public school alternatives such as private or religious schools. Home school families could use up to $2,000 per student, up to $4,000 total.

If passed now by the Senate, the bill would require a minimum appropriation of $100 million per year from the state’s Education Trust Fund, though for the first two years, would be funded entirely from supplemental appropriations.

The bill was named by Gov. Kay Ivey as her “number-one legislative priority” for 2024, and was sponsored in the House by Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville. 

Democratic House members were largely opposed to the measure, and argued – for more than four hours – that the bill lacked appropriate accountability measures for private schools receiving public dollars, and that its costs came at the expense of public schools.

“I don’t see apples and apples here, I see apples and oranges,” said Rep. Barbara Drummond, D-Mobile, ranking minority member of the Education Policy Committee. 

“Whatever the testing is for public schools needs to be the same for the other schools that are receiving these public dollars. If we keep pulling away from public education, how are we ever going to make it better?”

A substitute to the bill that came out of the Ways and Means Education Committee was brought to the floor nearly three hours into the debate, which Garrett said would require private schools receiving tax dollars to share test scores with parents, and to report school-level assessment data with the Alabama Department of Revenue, among other things.

Despite objections from House Democrats, the amendment passed with a vote of 68-29, and the bill in its entirety with a vote of 69-34 along party lines.

In a statement following the bill’s passage in the House, Ivey praised lawmakers for having taken “another important step forward in passing an effective and sustainable education savings account plan.”

House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, also championed the bill’s passage.

“A student’s zip code has no business in determining the quality of their education, and I have no doubt the CHOOSE Act will ensure that is no longer the case,” Ledbetter said. 

“I appreciate Gov. Ivey’s leadership on this issue and look forward to seeing this legislation cross the finish line.”




Senate approves ‘Sen. Tim Melson Act’

The Alabama Senate approved on Tuesday legislation to enhance CPR training in public schools by including hands-on instruction in the technique and the use of automated external defibrillators.

The bill follows the near-death experience of Melson, R-Florence, in South Korea last summer. He’s credited fellow legislators, including Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, for saving his life by performing CPR for more than 40 minutes. Orr sponsored Senate Bill 59. It mandates that each high school student in a public school, as part of existing health education requirements, receive training in CRP and the use of an AED.

“Lives will be saved because of what you went through,” Orr said to Melson on the Senate floor.


Senate votes to take school approval out of teen jobs

The Alabama Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that says 14 and 15 year olds in Alabama don’t need approval from their schools to work.

Under current law, those teenagers must obtain permission from their local school principal to secure a job. Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, sponsored Senate Bill 53, which eliminates the need for that approval.

Orr on the Senate floor described a scenario where a superintendent in one district might require a C average before approved employment while another requires a B average.

“Let the parents decide,” he said.

Orr emphasized the benefits of early employment, saying  it builds traits like “reliability, work ethic, habit, reward and pay.”

Federal law says 14 and 15 year olds cannot work more than 18 hours per week.

Rep. Susan DeBose is sponsoring the House version of this bill.


Legislation creates new nursing category 

The Alabama Board of Nursing could create a curriculum, issue permits and regulate “nursing support technicians” under a bill approved in the Senate on Tuesday.

A nursing support technician performs supportive nursing services under the supervision of a licensed nurse.

Introduced by Sen. April Weaver, R-Brierfield, Senate Bill 25 establishes education, training and certification requirements with a standardized curriculum plan. This would allow nurse support technicians to perform certain job du>es, skills and provide care consistent with their training and education.

“We have been looking at ways that we can increase the workforce for our health care providers,” Weaver said.

Alabama has approximately 12,000 nursing support workers under various titles with no uniformity in the education, training, and monitoring of these support workers, which leads to redundancies, Weaver said.

She emphasized this bill “allows for greater patient quality care because it is a standardized position and creates a stackable credential through the college system.”

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