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Sponsors: Changes coming to school choice bill

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Sponsors of a major school choice bill in the Alabama Legislature are scaling it back significantly in an effort to secure passage in the Senate and House.

As approved in a Senate committee last week, Sen. Del 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. 

Now, Marsh, R-Anniston, said he’s working on a substitute bill that would only apply to students entering kindergarten next year, phasing in a new class of students each year for 13 years.

Marsh estimates that could be about 5,000 students a year. 

“It follows the student as they go through their school life,” Marsh told Alabama Daily News on Monday. 

He said the initial impact on the Education Trust Fund would be about $28 million.

“Others still won’t like it, they’ll still complain about it, but it’s not that hit on the budget they’re talking about,” Marsh said.

During a public hearing last week, several education groups disagreed and spoke against the bill, specifically on its impact on public school funding.

There are no income limits on who can get the savings accounts. 

“This gets us started,” said Marsh, who has argued for years that parents need better academic choices for their children.

The substitute bill would not apply to homeschool students. Lawmakers have gotten pushback from homeschool groups since Marsh last week amended the original bill to require annual student achievement testing of any student receiving the state funds.

“Some people can’t be helped,” Marsh said about criticism from homeschool advocates. “They see ghosts where there are no ghosts.”

Rep. Charlotte Meadows, R-Montgomery, on Monday said homeschool advocates were concerned about a “slippery slope” of government intervention into their programs.

Meadows is sponsoring the Parent’s Choice bill in the House.

Taking homeschool students out of the bill allows Marsh to put in the bill an accreditation requirement for all participating schools, he said.

He also said the testing requirement for private schools would be the same as that of the Alabama Accountability Act. Students using that tax credit scholarship program take yearly math and English tests.

Marsh said he’s counting votes and hoping to get the bill on the Senate floor this week. 

He said he plans to meet with House members on Wednesday. 

Meadows said the state leaders need to “upset the apple cart”  to improve education options and that parents know best what is best for their children.

“I think we should focus on the needs of the child,” she said.

ADN’s Todd Stacy contributed to this article. 

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