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School choice bill still being negotiated in State House

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

A sponsor of a major school choice bill said work is being done on the legislation in hopes of getting something passed this session. 

“I would say it’s been slowed down, but not done, not dead yet,” Rep. Charlotte Meadows, R-Montgomery, said Monday. She said she’s still working to get the “best bill possible” to provide education savings accounts to Alabamians. Parents could use the taxpayer funds to send their children to private schools or to alternate public schools that accept them.

She said she hopes to get the bill in committee in a few weeks. A Senate version from Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, has cleared committee in that chamber but hasn’t gotten a vote on the floor. Marsh last week said significant changes would be made to the legislation, including removing homeschooler from the state funding option and limiting availability next year to incoming kindergarten students. Each year, a new incoming class would be eligible. 

As approved in a Senate committee earlier this month Marsh’s bill would have allowed more than $5,000 per year in state support to any student attending private or homeschools. A fiscal note on the bill said that when fully implemented in the 2024-2025 school year, it could send as much as $537 million from the Education Trust Fund to education savings accounts that parents could use to send their children to non-public schools. That price tag caused significant pushback from public school groups.

Meadows on Monday said she’s still trying to get education savings accounts to as many Alabamians as possible, as quickly as possible.

“The ESA is the best way I can see to provide competition to local schools,” Meadows said. “It’s a really sound school choice mechanism.” 

The bill is similar to legislation signed into law in West Virginia last year.

“We’re working on producing legislation that will give parents a choice and raise the level of education in all schools,” Meadows said.

Today is school choice day at the State House with a rally outside scheduled for 11:30 a.m.

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