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Ivey debuts universal school choice bill backed by legislative leadership, budget chairmen

Governor Kay Ivey delivered the specifics of a much-anticipated school choice plan during her State of the State address on Tuesday night. Her ultimate goal is to sign the first major school choice expansion since the Alabama Accountability Act passed now over a decade ago into law. 

“Now, our next step is to provide our parents, beginning with those most in need, education savings accounts, which will further us on our journey to become the most school-choice friendly state in the nation,” Ivey said. 

“Passing an education savings account bill that works for families and for Alabama is my number one legislative priority, and I am proud to have our education budget chairmen, Senator Arthur Orr and Representative Danny Garrett carry the CHOOSE Act.”

CHOOSE, standing for the Creating Hope & Opportunity for Our Students’ Education Act.

The AAA, passed in 2013, assists families of public school students who attend schools designated as ‘priority schools’ by providing refundable income tax credits to offset the costs of parents who decide to transfer their students to a better-performing public school, a private school, or a public charter school where available. 

Expansions to AAA were made during the 2023 session, and during her address, Gov. Ivey said, “School choice is a spectrum, and last year, we recognized that to expand our options in Alabama, we had to first improve our existing options – charter schools and the Alabama Accountability Act. You accomplished that.” 

RELATED: School choice: Three proposals on lawmakers’ desks (2023)

According to the newly released text of the bill, the CHOOSE Act would provide up to $7,000 per child enrolled at an accredited, participating private or public school through an education savings account provided by a new income tax credit. 

For its first two years, families who can’t afford to send their children to the school of their choice will be a priority through $7,000 savings accounts.

After the first two years, Gov. Ivey said the program will be available to all families.

Gov. Ivey went further to say, “My goal is to put us on a trajectory to make our program fully universal while also maintaining our full and total support for public education. At the end of the day, I believe the CHOOSE Act — packaged with providing our K-12 teachers the highest starting salaries — will help our public schools become even stronger.” 

Gov. Ivey said that her legislative priorities will keep Alabama on the path to being in the top 30 academically. 

RELATED: Ivey: AAA expansion to ‘create more choices for parents’ (2023)

“Governor Ivey and her team were very receptive and collaborative to feedback from Representative Garrett and me in drafting the CHOOSE Act,” Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) said.

“Because of this, I believe we have crafted school choice/education savings account legislation that addresses the needs of an important segment of the needs of our school children while preserving the fiscal integrity of our public schools.”

In the third year and beyond, any Alabama family will be eligible, placing the CHOOSE program on a pathway to becoming truly universal as the program grows.

“We must leave no stone unturned when it comes to providing the next generation of Alabamians with the opportunity to pursue an educational path that best sets them up for success,” said Rep. Danny Garrett (R-Trussville)

“I would like to commend Governor Ivey for proposing a plan that will help take school choice to the next level in Alabama. The CHOOSE Act will give hardworking parents a tool that has the potential to change the trajectory of their child’s educational future.”

The program would cost the education trust fund (ETF) $100 million to the CHOOSE Program Fund annually, and the governor has already set aside $50 million for the fund in the FY2024 Education Trust Fund supplemental.

RELATED: Ivey backs vote on legal gaming, state lottery: ‘Now is the time for Alabama voters to have another say’

The CHOOSE Act has been endorsed by Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Reed (R-Jasper) and Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) who are cosponsoring the bill.

“Children are gifts from God, and they are the future of our great state. As legislators, one of our greatest responsibilities is to allocate resources in fiscally responsible ways to ensure that kids in our communities have every opportunity to be successful and achieve their dreams,” said Pro Tem Reed.

“A family’s zip-code should not be the primary indicator of a child’s educational outcome, and we are committed to giving Alabama families the ability to make the best decisions regarding their children’s educations.”

“My priority with school choice legislation has always been providing parents with additional options without negatively impacting Alabama’s public education system,” said Speaker Ledbetter.

“After working with the governor’s office on the CHOOSE Act for the last year, I feel that we have come up with a strong piece of legislation that accomplishes just that. I appreciate Governor Ivey’s leadership on this important issue, and I am proud to co-sponsor this legislation in the House.”

Grayson Everett is the state and political editor for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @Grayson270

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