MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WIAT) — An Alabama committee Wednesday advanced a bill that would give parents nearly $7,000 to spend on their child’s schooling of choice.
Bill sponsor Sen. Larry Stutts (R-Tuscumbia) said years of record high education budgets and countless programs haven’t done enough to improve education, and it’s time to try something new.
“We just keep spending more money and we stay in last place, and I think we need to reform it from the outside,” Stutts said.
The Parental Rights in Children’s Education Act gives participating parents $6,900 per child to spend how they choose on private school options. Under the bill, parents could also spend that money on a long list of qualifying expenses, including things like space camp or sports tournaments.
“They can take this money and use this money for travel ball. Travel ball,” Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham) said. “And yet I can tell you the school name — Hemphill Elementary School. They ain’t even got a lick of band equipment.”
Opponents argue the bill lacks accountability and worry about its impact on public schools.
“There’s this myth that the money follows the students. Well, it does, but you’ve already built a building, hired a teacher, purchased school buses and textbooks for that student population,” said Alabama Association of School Boards Executive Director Sally Smith. “Those fixed costs don’t go away when the student chooses to go somewhere else.”
Stutts said he does not think public schools will take a huge hit. Based on other states with similar programs, he expects about 1-3% of students may participate.
“If only 1% or so of students move, it drives public education to improve,” Stutts said. “Competition makes everybody better.”
The committee voted 12 to 3 to advance the bill. Stutts said he’s hopeful it will get a vote on the Senate floor next week.
The bill did undergo some changes in committee. An amendment was added that caps state spending on the program to $50 million. A previous estimate assuming 5% participation of students had the cost at nearly $600 million.
Lawmakers have 10 days left in the session.