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School choice reform, expansion clears Senate

In a Senate meeting Tuesday that overcame a bipartisan filibuster, lawmakers gave the green light to modify and reinvest in the Alabama Accountability Act. The legislation was initially passed in 2013. 

Sen. Donnie Chesteen (R-Geneva) ultimately led the chamber to passage in a 26-7 vote. His bill proposes enlarging the educational tax credit program that aids students in underperforming schools to transition to a better-performing public or private schools.

It would raise the household income limit for scholarship recipients from $55,500 to $75,000 to expand the number of students eligible. The proposed eligibility would also include students with learning and physical disabilities. 

Addressing a feature of critical feedback of the act, the bill would redefine the terms “failing school” and “non-failing school” to “priority school” and “qualifying school.”

Democrats and Republicans took turns filibustering the bill – each for their own reasons. The debate came to an end following a cloture motion passed shortly before 9 p.m. 

While Democrats revived arguments about a diversion of public education funding bill, Sen. Larry Stutts (R-Sheffield) made an extensive case for his own school choice legislation. 

Ultimately, all Republican senators voted in favor of the bill.

“The expansion of the Alabama Accountability Act opens the doors for more students to participate in this already successful tax credit program,” Senate Pro Tem Greg Reed said following passage. “Creating and expanding educational opportunities for our state’s children has been and will continue to be a top priority for the Alabama Legislature.”

Chesteen remained positive, noting the Alabama Accountability Act has been on the books for 10 years now. 

“Senate Bill 263 is a victory for all Alabamians, especially our school-age children,” said Chesteen. “By expanding access to scholarships, and enhancing tax credits, my hope is that this bill paves the way for greater educational opportunities and empowers families to ensure their children’s success.”

It now heads to the Alabama House of Representatives for further consideration.

Grayson Everett is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @Grayson270 for coverage of the 2023 legislative session.

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