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Alabama bill to offer cash for private, or home, schooling


Alabama lawmakers advanced a voucher proposal that would give parents up to $6,900 per child each year to pay for private school or home-schooling expenses. The Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee voted to send the bill to the Senate floor after lawmakers added a $50 million annual spending cap to limit the loss to public education funding. The bill would give parents up to $6,900 per child through education savings accounts to pay for private school tuition, textbooks, home-schooling expenses, tutoring services and extracurricular activities, including sports and arts. It's part of a wave of Republican proposals across the country promoting education options that are alternatives to traditional public schools.

Republican Senator Larry Stutts, the bill's sponsor, said the legislation would allow parents the "freedom to make the best decision for their children." He argued that the purpose of the tax dollars is to educate children and that it doesn't have to be done in a public school.

"We're last in education in just about every measurable category, and I'm tired of being last. ... I think parents are ultimately responsible for their children's education, and when you put parents in charge, things change," Stutts said.

Opponents argued the plan would drain money from public schools while benefiting parents who are likely already choosing private or home-schooling. They also argued that private schools and home-schooling do not have the same curriculum and testing standards placed on public schools.

"We do think parents have a right to choose something different, they just don't have a right to ask Alabama taxpayers to pay for it," Sally Smith, executive director of the Alabama Association of School Boards, told reporters after the committee vote.

Smith said a student could "basically practice tennis all day" under the bill.

"We are opening up the treasury coffers and saying, 'Reach your hand in there and get whatever you want out of it,' said Senator Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham.

Stutts insisted that parents are "ultimately accountable."

The $50 million price cap was added after some lawmakers expressed concerns about cost. The Legislative Services Agency estimated the original proposal would cost the education budget about $570 million each year if 5% of eligible public school students participated. Stutts said he thought that estimate was too high.

The bill faces an uncertain outlook in the session that will end in June. Stutts said he will ask for the bill to be voted on in the Senate next week.

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