Gov. Kay Ivey Reaffirms Support for Education Savings Accounts

But the governor did not get into specifics of a proposal at a rally on Monday.

Gov. Kay Ivey reaffirmed support for ESAs at a “School Choice Week” rally on Jan. 22, 2024 at the Alabama Capitol. (Jemma Stephenson/Alabama Reflector)

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Gov. Kay Ivey Monday reaffirmed her support for creating education savings accounts at a rally on the Alabama State Capitol steps on Monday.

But Ivey and other speakers gave few details of what they would support on the issue, which has already drawn pushback from State Schools Superintendent Eric Mackey and other educators in the state.

“It will be sustainable, responsible and it’s how we will shape the future of education in Alabama,” Ivey told several dozen people at a rally for “School Choice Week,” a push to expand nontraditional public schools and publicly-funded private school options.

Education savings accounts are similar to vouchers in that they allow the use of money originally intended for public schools to be used for other items, including private school tuition. Vouchers send the money to an educational institution that the student attends. Education savings accounts go to the parents, who can use it for any number of services, including tuition, tutoring and counseling.

Ivey made expansion of education options a priority in last year’s legislative session. The Alabama Legislature passed legislation expanding the Alabama Accountability Act, a scholarship program allowing students in low-performing schools to qualify for scholarships to private schools.

The governor told the crowd that her “top priority is ensuring education savings accounts bill crosses the finish line.”

What emerges from the session will be up to the Legislature, and likely Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville and Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, the chairs of the legislative committees overseeing the Education Trust Fund budget, which would fund any type of Education Savings Account. Messages seeking comment were left with Orr and Garrett on Monday morning; neither man could be seen at Monday’s rally.

Sen. Larry Stutts, R-Tuscumbia, filed an expansive education savings account bill last year, which would have allowed roughly $6,900 to follow a student. The bill, filed late in the session, did not become law.

Rep. Ernie Yarbrough, R-Trinity, who filed a House version of Stutts’ bill, said Monday that he also supported an expansive education savings account option.

“It brings the free market back to education,” he said.

Stutts and Yarbrough tend to be some of the most conservative members of the Republican supermajority Legislature.

Yarbrough lined out his plans for “true school choice:” universal for all students; flexible spending ability; protects autonomy of private and home schools, while making traditional public schools’ curriculum transparent and is not an “attempt” to increase government spending.

“I believe that true school choice does not increase the size or scope of government,” he said.

The bill has not been filed as of Monday morning.

Students and parents spoke about their own experiences with education options in the state at the rally also.

June Henninger, a fifth grade student at the private Montgomery Christian School, said that she benefited from her experience at the school. She said she was grateful for her education and her teachers.

“I’m ready for my next school of my choice,” she said.

Montgomery Christian School students are on scholarships through donations and from scholarships from the Alabama Accountability Act.

“School choice” can refer to a number of things, namely charter schools, vouchers and/ or education savings accounts.

At the January State Board of Education board meeting and work session, State Superintendent Eric Mackey said that he would want the money to go to schools and would require accountability.

Alabama Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alabama Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Brian Lyman for questions: info@alabamareflector.com. Follow Alabama Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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