MONTGOMERY — Full school choice in 2023 seems to be a shaky option for Alabama lawmakers, according to House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) and Senate Pro Tem Greg Reed (R-Jasper).
On Thursday morning at a breakfast event, Ledbetter addressed several issues, including school choice.
Gov. Kay Ivey and Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth both addressed school choice in the inauguration addresses in January, leaving many hopeful that full school choice would be on the horizon in the state.
Yet, in early March, Ivey delivered her State of the State address in which she spoke on school choice, yet again, which many felt was less enthusiastic than her previous statements on the subject.
When asked, Ledbetter said he supported expanding school choice but expressed serious skepticism about full choice, citing budget issues for his hesitation.
“I think we are going to see school choice; we’re going to see it expanded,” Ledbetter said. “I don’t know where we’ll go. One thing we talked about early was being mindful of the budgeting process. If you go full school choice, you’re talking probably $700 million. We’re talking about giving almost $1 billion back, we’re talking about almost another half-a-billion dollars in incentives, so that’s $3 billion, and we’ve got to be mindful of the budgeting process as well. I do think we will expand school choice. …We’ll see some of it in different categories. The ball is rolling; I don’t think there’s a question about that.”
While not currently filed, the Parental Rights in Children’s Education (PRICE) Act will be the school choice bill this legislative session. The bill takes the best parts from school choice bills passed in other states like Arizona and West Virginia, which operate with an education savings account.
“My goal is this: My goal is to make Alabama’s kids have the ability to have the best education they can have regardless of what it is,” Ledbetter continued. “And being at the bottom is not acceptable. And I think we’re making strides not being at the bottom, and my primary goal as speaker is making sure, when I leave this office, that Alabama’s education is in the top tier; at least in the middle of the tier.”
He continued, “Part of the issue in our state is poverty. And in inner schools and some of the metropolitan areas, that’s the case, too. There’s no school choice in some of those areas. I mean, If you go to rural Wilcox County, what other choice do they have? So, I think we can’t throw the baby out with the bath water. And we’ve got to be very cautious in what we’re doing and do it in the right way. Do I think there’s a chance to expand that? Am I for doing that? Yes. I think, in doing that also, my primary goal is to make sure the kids of Alabama have the best opportunity to get educated that they can.”
Reed said he agreed with Ledbetter and believed the legislature would gradually increase school choice in the coming years.
“I think that the idea of school choice is a topic that we’re going to be working on this legislative session, and the next, and the next,” Reed stated.
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