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INTERVIEW: Senator Scott Beason Discusses Education Reform

What kind of impact do you think the Accountability Act of 2013 will have on education in Alabama, and why?

Senator Scott Beason:
The impact of the Accountability Act should not be underestimated. It fundamentally changes the discussion about education in Alabama. The question is no longer whether we will have some sort of school choice in the state. We have moved beyond a debate over brick and mortar charter schools and have moved all the way to tax credits. The new discussion will be about how tax credits can be expanded to serve more children and allow their parents to make decisions.

Why would democrats oppose this bill when it would be of huge value to many of their constituents with children in struggling school systems?

Sen. Beason:
The opposition from the Democrats stems from their belief that government has the answers, and individuals have to be managed by that government. They oppose any policy that deviates from that belief. The democrats have to see that a new opportunity is present for families and children, but they cannot bring themselves to give up power and control. They’re also influenced by the fact that the biggest pro-democrat group in the state, the AEA — also known as the teachers’ union — opposes the legislation.

What would you say to those who criticize the way this bill was passed?

Sen. Beason:
The detractors cannot argue the merits of the legislation, so they are left to whine about how the bill was passed. Those against the bill seem to forget that this measure was voted on just like any other piece of legislation. Overwhelming majorities from both chambers voted in favor of and approved the conference committee report. I guess they don’t believe in the system when bills they disagree with are passed.

Did you have any sense of the historic nature of what was happening Thursday, or did that get lost in the chaos?

Sen. Beason:
I have said for a long time that tax credits for education would be historic. I doubt that it has sunk in with many people how historic this legislation truly is. Alabama has the chance to give her people choices and opportunities they have never had. Someday we could have schools that cater to the learning types of different children, or facilitate those who excel in certain subject matters, or serve special needs children, or allow gifted children to excel beyond our wildest dreams. Those options are not currently available in the traditional publicly funded education model. It takes competition and a market to make those possibilities into realities.

This could really be a momentum builder for proponents of education reform in the Legislature. Does this bill open the door to more education reforms in the future?

Sen. Beason:
Tax credits that empower families to do what is best for their children are really the ultimate education reform. It goes way beyond charter schools or other reform ideas. It allows for a market to develop based on the needs of the community, the parents, and the children that charters could never have done. Parents go into the market and make choices for their kids. If they don’t like the product they are receiving, they can choose something else. Detractors will say that those choices don’t exist in some places, and they are correct. If we had passed this bill 10 years ago and made the necessary adjustments to foster investment in certain neighborhoods, there would be choices today. All we can do now is work to make opportunities available. I look forward to seeing what can happen now that the shackles are off. It is a start, and it is a very good start.

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