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Dale Strong: Real school choice happens when dollars follow students

This week is National School Choice Week and with that an opportunity to highlight the fact that parents have a choice between public schools, private schools or homeschooling when it comes to educating their children. Education is not one size fits all. I am a proud graduate of Sparkman High which is part of the Madison County public school system.

However, Laura and I made the choice to send Whitney and Harrison to a private faith-based Christian school, after they spent several years in public school. That was our decision based on the needs of our children and the options available to us. What we need to do in Congress and in Montgomery is make those options more available to many more families. It is critical that we continue to fund public education – but fairness says we also need to provide real School Choice for parents along with the tax dollars to help pay for those choices. Supporting public education and our teachers shouldn’t come at the cost of limiting student’s choices.

In 2013, the Alabama Legislature took a step in the right direction with the Alabama Accountability Act. This legislation did several things. First, it ended the Obama Common Core curriculum that was a complete disaster for parents, teachers and students. Second, it allowed for Charter Schools in Alabama which had been opposed by the teacher’s unions for years. Third, the act took a huge first step toward school choice by creating tax credits for parents of children in failing schools that wanted to pursue a private school alternative. The law also set up an opportunity for low-income students to apply for a tax credit scholarship, funded by individual and corporate taxpayers, to help defray some of the costs of attending private school.

Now it is time to take this a step further and truly tie education dollars to the student and not the schools. Every family pays school taxes but today all those taxes are used primarily to fund public education. This is totally unfair for those families choosing private or home-schooling alternatives. This must change and some of these tax dollars need to be refunded to these parents through tax credits to help cover the expenses of private or homeschool choices. And these credits need to apply for faith-based schools and home school programs as well.

The need for this is at an all-time high. At the start of COVID-19, about 25,000 students were homeschooled in Alabama, making up about 4% of all students. This percentage has tripled and today about 12% of Alabama students are homeschooled.

I’ve spoken with many parents that removed their children from public schools during the pandemic shutdown and plan to keep homeschooling their children from now on. It’s important to help these parents continue an education path that works for their children so we must do more to support this home school choice. It is unfortunate that government overreach in our schools such as mandating Common Core and teaching Critical Race Theory are driving more and more families to pursue homeschooling, but I can’t say I blame them one bit. We need conservatives at all levels of government – from our local school boards to our legislature and Congress to support their decision as well. This week we celebrate School Choice Week but until we start tying education dollars to the student and not the school it is a choice many families won’t be able to afford.

Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong is a Republican candidate for Alabama’s fifth congressional district

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