Supporters Rally for School Choice As Alabama Waits for AAA Ruling
As the state legislature prepares to take up the subject of charter schools and the state supreme court readies a ruling on the controversial Alabama Accountability Act, thousands are expected to gather in Montgomery on Wednesday to rally for expanded school choice.
According to representatives from the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund, which grew out of the Alabama Accountability Act (AAA), organizers are billing the event as the largest-ever school-choice gathering in Alabama to date. With well over 2,000 students, parents, educators, and activists expected to gather on Wednesday, the focus of the rally will be swaying lawmakers to expand K-12 educational options in the state.
The gathering is part of National School Choice Week (NSCW), a self-described annual celebration of expanded school choice for parents and their children.
School choice is the subject of ongoing debate across the state. In 2013, Alabama Republican lawmakers made an effort to, among other things, expand school choice by implementing the AAA, which grants tax breaks to both families and corporations with the intent of giving low- and middle-income families access to private schools and public schools considered “non-failing,” based on controversial criteria laid out in the law itself. But since its inception, the law has faced fierce legal opposition.
In August 2013, state senator Quinton Ross, Alabama Education Association President Anita Gibson, and Lowndes County School Superintendent Daniel Boyd filed a lawsuit to overturn the act. Montgomery County Circuit Judge Gene Reese ruled last May that the AAA violated the state constitution because it contained more than one subject and lacked a two-thirds vote by the House and Senate. AAA proponents appealed, and the case is currently under the review of the Alabama Supreme Court, which could rule any day.
Those in favor of the AAA say it has helped families access quality educational options. According to Lesley Searcy, Executive Director of the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship Fund, “We hope that leaders from around the state will see the demand and know there is a desire by low-income parents to provide the best possible education for their children through school choice.”
Critics of the AAA say that it deprives the public school system of drastically needed public funds. According to independent education analyst Trisha Powell Crain, “those who work in the public schools form the largest opposition to school choice because it diverts money away from the existing school systems.”
There will likely be a similar heated debate assuming the state legislature takes up a charter school bill this spring.